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In Case of Emergency: A Novel

In Case of Emergency: A Novel

by E. G. Scott

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Overview

When her boyfriend goes missing and a woman turns up dead, Charlotte must connect the dots for herself before she becomes the suspect, or the next victim.

Charlotte, a mid-thirties Long Island woman, has felt so alone since her promising career in neuroscience imploded. But she has an online support group; she has Rachel, a friend who has seen her through the worst of it; and now she also has Peter, a mysterious new boyfriend who has asked that their budding romance remain a total secret.

That is why she is too scared to report his disappearance to the authorities when he van­ishes without a word.

Weeks later, police contact her to make an ID on a body, and she fears the worst for her missing beau. Instead, she arrives at the morgue and feels a terrible relief when she sees a woman she has never met on the table in front of her. But relief is replaced by confusion, then terror, when Charlotte realizes she has become a person of interest.

Why did Jane Doe have Charlotte listed as her emergency contact? Was it revenge or a warning? And where exactly does Peter factor into all this? As Charlotte becomes the prime murder suspect, she enters into a race against the clock to find out the truth about the dead woman and the connections they shared. But what she discovers is beyond anything she could have ever imagined.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524744571
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/04/2020
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 7,309
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

E. G. Scott is a pseudonym for two writers, Elizabeth Keenan and Greg Wands, who have been friends for over twenty years and have been writing plays, screenplays, and short fiction separately since childhood. They are currently penning their next thriller.

Read an Excerpt

­TWO
CHARLOTTE
“Today is the day,” I say loudly, using volume as much as enthusiasm in my attempt to conjure Peter. He said he would be back this week, and I am running out of days on the calendar and doubling down on positivity.
When I woke up this morning, my intuition was strong. For the first morning since he went away, I genuinely felt the hopeful excitement of finally seeing him outweighing the negative, nagging pull that he’s gone away for good.
“He will come for me today.” I am specific in my intention. I close my eyes and picture a strong white light entering my body and radiating through me while time is suspended in the red traffic light, and I relish a few composing breaths before I start my day of interactions. The only sound I can hear is the soothing metronomic turn signal, click, click, click, click.
It’s a ­quieter-.­than-.­usual suburban weekday afternoon at the mouth of the parking lot, and I’m alone at the intersection. There is no one to look at me in judgment for talking to myself at full volume. Not a har­ried mom on her way to Pilates, or a car full of teenagers ­side-.­eyeing me, thinking, Crazy.
Then, as I enter the lot and near my corner of the complex, I practi­cally jump out of the moving car when I see a man standing in front of my office, his back to me. He is tall with dark hair, too far away to posi­tively identify, but it has to be him. I slow the car and squint, my heart blooming with hope, and I bounce in my seat like an excited toddler, but he’s moved out of sight behind one of the storefront pillars.
“Wait!” I bellow, then whip into a lane of open spaces. He’s already walked a good distance away by the time I pull into a parking spot mer­cifully close to my office door. I barely remember to shut off the engine and unfasten my seat belt before I’m out of the car.
“Peter!” I call after the steadily shrinking figure. He doesn’t hesitate in his next step or turn around. My heart sinks.
“Peter?” I say a little louder in volume, but lower in hope. He’s disap­peared around a corner before the “er” leaves my lips. I check the time on my phone to see if I have a few extra minutes before my next patient to give chase, but I only have two minutes until the appointment is scheduled to begin. I chastise myself for getting out of the car; I could have driven alongside him and easily caught up.
Fuck. I want to follow him, but I’m out of time. He’ll come back. Of course he will. I pull out my phone in the hope of a text from him, ask­ing where I am. Nothing.
I shakily put the key in the door. Was it really him? My desperation may be distorting my ability to see people clearly. I’m doubting every­thing lately. I should be able to recognize him by now, even at a distance. I fight against the negative ­self-.­talk that is bubbling over.
“Honestly, Charlotte. You can barely recognize yourself anymore. Get your shit together,” I mutter as the door glides open with an easy push.
“Excuse me? What did you just say to me?” The voice is so close, I feel the hair on the back of my head stand up.
I pivot sharply and we are face-­to-­face.
ccc
My hand is steady and I am poised to strike. The sun through the win­dow glints off the tip of the metal. Her blue eyes are wide with fear at the sharp point moving toward her chest. She swallows hard and looks away. In one quick move, I push the tip into her skin. She exhales sharply. I smile.
There are points on the outside of the human body where if you ap­ply enough pressure, say, with a sharp object, you can change an entire internal energy flow. You can turn someone into wet spaghetti or bring them to unconsciousness with the ­know-.­how. I pride myself on having mastered these vital points, outside and in.
I’ve never lost the thrill of seeing how they respond the first time. It’s a reminder of how powerful what I’m doing can be, and how powerless people are. How they confront the things that scare them tells a lot about their personality. In this case, she is openly afraid. I have only known her for inside an hour, but she already is an open book of inse­curity and fear. It’s a large part of what has brought her to me. And makes her an ideal candidate for what I do. I keep one hand on her arm to comfort her while I home in on the next entry point.
“How are you feeling, Lucy?” I say gently as I move around the table and push the point into the crook of her left arm.
“When are you putting the next one in?” she questions nervously.
“Already done. You didn’t even notice. How does it feel so far?” I ask her.
“Strange. Tingly. Does that mean it’s working?” she responds.
“Tingling can indicate that your ­qi—.­your energy ­flow—.­is being moved along, which is the goal. So you are doing great.” I know based on her consult interview earlier that she is highly ­self-.­critical and suffer­ing from majorly low ­self-.­esteem, two character traits that can manifest physiologically in a number of insidious ways.
“Oh good. My body doesn’t always cooperate when I introduce it to new things. Mainly exercise or dieting.” She releases a laugh that sounds more wounded than amused and ­self-.­consciously puts her right arm over her midsection. ­Body-.­image issues are very apparent in her. There is a lot to work on here; she is the kind of challenging patient I like.
“The wonderful thing about acupuncture is that you don’t have to do much. Just lie back, breathe deeply, and let me do the hard part.”
Once I explained my negative ­self-.­talk at the door when she was ar­riving at the same time as I was, we had an awkward laugh and she graciously let me properly introduce myself before we got started. It was not how I wanted to begin with a new client, and I’m lucky she has a sense of humor.
“How does it actually work? I tried to do some research online, but you know how unreliable the Internet can be.” She groans. “I try to stay offline as much as possible, so I decided to hold off and ask the profes­sional. I’m also hopeless with anything computer related.”
“Smart thinking. Googling anything is often more frightening than educational. I can recommend some great books about acupuncture if you are interested.”
“Sure. I love to read.”
“Great. I’ll write them down for you before you leave.” I put a needle in her third eye, the space between her eyebrows, which is an incredibly calming point.
“Basically, we are made up of energy, and sometimes what is hap­pening in our heads, coupled with our diet and lifestyle choices, can negatively affect our bodies’ ability to connect all this powerful energy flow, and things get blocked. In Chinese medicine, organs correlate to particular emotions. Stored-­up trauma from our lives can accumulate and manifest in a number of physical ailments. Everyday stresses and daily pollutants, from the air we breathe to the food we put in our bod­ies to the toxic people we encounter, can overload our systems. All of these factors add up and our organs can’t do their jobs fully, so problems arise. The needles help open your pathways.” I’ve moved to her large intestine meridian. “If our body is a racetrack of energy, the places where energy gets blocked are like little car accidents along the way. I use the needles to clear the road and keep everything moving smoothly.”
She seems impressed with my explanation. Her breathing has deep­ened and her nervous system has calmed. I am happy that she is reacting so positively, and so quickly.
“How are the needles feeling so far? Anything bothering you? Any aching or sharp pains?”
“I’m great, actually. I can barely feel them going in, and once they are, I feel a nice body buzz. Like I’m in one of those massage chairs at the nail salon, but on a low setting.”
“That is a great metaphor! I might have to use it.”
She’s pleased. “Of course. Use away.”
I don’t have my next needle completely out of its plastic casing when I hear the front door buzzer. Damn. Since Rachel isn’t in, and we don’t have the budget for a receptionist these days, I can either ignore it or interrupt my session, which I’d rather not do with a new patient. I de­cide to ignore it and pull the needle the rest of the way out. The buzzer sounds again and is followed by a pretty aggressive knock. Whoever it is clearly is not going away. My stomach flips. I don’t have any other patients today, and according to the schedule, neither does Rachel. It has to be Peter. My heart does a triple axel.
“Lucy, I’m so sorry. Would you excuse me for a minute? I wasn’t ex­pecting anyone. I should go check and see who it is.” I put the ­still-.­sheathed needle on the side table.
“No problem,” she replies amicably.
I slip out the door and make my way past our shared “reception area,” which is simply an IKEA desk topped with a box of Kleenex, my laptop, and a ­wood-.­and-.­stone Cairn fountain. When I open the door, my eyes are met with jade irises so striking that a small current of electricity travels from the top of my head to my feet. It’s the man from earlier. And he clearly is not Peter from this angle. Disappointment envelops me.
“Hi. Can I help you?” I stay squarely in the doorway so he doesn’t enter the office.
“Hi. I’m Jack.” He reaches his hand out confidently. I peg him as a salesman, but I’m not sure what he’s selling yet. I give him a small friendly wave instead.
“I’d shake your hand, but I’m treating someone right now.”
He looks me up and down quickly and corrects himself by casting a laser focus on my face. “Charlotte?” he asks.
“Have we met?”
“Nope, just a lucky guess.” From each of his hands, he waves our two business cards, which live in two slots next to our entrance door. He looks at each of our cards again and chuckles. “My odds were good.”
“Are you looking for Rachel?” I shift to lean on the door frame to further my not inviting him inside, trying not to let the impatience in my body escape into my words.
“Maybe? Or maybe I’m looking for you?” He lets that sink in and is clearly pleased when I don’t respond right away aside from looking away from him quickly.
Normally, I’d be more repelled by his brashness, but he’s got sexual energy and appeal wafting off of him that I’m picking up on pretty strongly. I’m surprised by how much I’m reacting to this complete stranger standing a few feet away from me, in the midst of my disap­pointment.
I clear my throat. “Do you have an appointment with Rachel?” It’s possible that he was a late add and she didn’t put him into the system, or one of them got the day or time mixed up.
“No. But I was walking ­by—.­I’ve passed your office a number of times, ­actually—.­I like the China Panda lunch ­special—.­and finally de­cided to come in. I think you, or Rachel, might be exactly what I need to feel better.” His smile is crooked, and on a less handsome man, it could look more like a case of dental neglect.
I’m struggling to parse innuendo from confidence. He could easily be a creep who only saw “massage” on the door, totally disregarded the other words, “reflexologist,” “acupuncturist,” and “Reiki healer,” and slithered in thinking he would get a hand job after his dim sum. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time.
“Well, I’m actually with a patient right now, but if you want to come back in half an hour, I could help you make an appointment. Were you looking for a sports massage?” I’m not getting an openness-­to-­Eastern-.­modalities vibe from him. His clothing and haircut paint more ex–.­lacrosse player turned broker type. Not my type in any realm of my life, yet he is annoyingly magnetic. I check myself. I am not available. I am deeply in love with my boyfriend.
“What do you do?” He’s kept eye contact well enough and his body language is open and nonthreatening, but there’s something about him that isn’t sitting right with me.
“Acupuncture and Reiki.”
His face draws into an expression of thoughtfulness, and he tugs at an invisible beard for effect. He reminds me of someone from my past, but I can’t figure out who.
“Force of habit. I actually had a beard up until last week, but I gave myself a makeover. I feel naked without it.”
I’d rather not think of this man naked, but of course that is where my mind goes. I quickly drop that image and think about Peter’s beard. How much I’ve thought about kissing him in the last month. I hear Lucy cough and shift on the bed from behind the closed door. The office is smaller than ideal, but it is what I can afford right now.
“Sorry. I really need to get back to my patient.”
“Patient? Or client?” His face hardens momentarily before he softens into a smile when he sees my posture go from neutral to rigid fast.
“Excuse me?”
“Oh, sorry. No disrespect. Wasn’t sure how that worked with ­non-.­MDs.” He grins.
Technically, I’m still an MD, but I won’t correct him. His charm has jumped the shark and I’m ready to be free of him. I used to only spend my days with men like him. Working alongside, sleeping next to. Lov­ing and fearing. I frown and I can see him register this change in me.
“I apologize. I offended you. I am trying to work on that.”
I don’t take the bait. I don’t need to hear about whatever this man is working on in himself. I’m retired from worrying about the ­self-.­improvements of charming but flawed men.
“No problem. Why don’t you check out our website and you can book an appointment that way.” I make no attempt to line my tone to sound particularly inviting. He’s fully under my skin and I’m not lik­ing it.
“Maybe you can even fit me in this afternoon?” The cognitive disso­nance between my distaste at his arrogance and the curiosity of what his body would feel like against mine is disorienting.
“I’ll have to look at my schedule for this afternoon, but I don’t believe I have any openings.” The practical side of me is yelling that not only do I have openings, but I desperately need to fill my dwindling patient ros­ter if I want to stay in business. All the other parts of me are preferring to ignore the conflicting ­attraction-.­and-.­aversion piece, as I’m really not in the mood to endure ­low-.­level harassment from this dude in the form of James Spader in Pretty in Pink. That’s it! I’m relieved to land on who his behavior is reminding me of, and now that I have, I don’t know if I can see him any other way.
“You can also book online,” I reiterate.
“I prefer to live my life offline,” he says without a trace of irony and runs a hand through his hair and moves to leave, having the last words. “See you later, then. Looking forward to it.” He turns on his heels and makes his way in the direction of the China Panda. He’s clearly a man who doesn’t take no for an answer.
My least favorite kind.
ccc
“I’m so sorry about that, Lucy.” She rolls her head toward me, a smile settled across her face. I wash my hands at the small sink to the right of the door before resuming my position next to her.
“No problem. I was just getting in some ­much-.­needed me time. Nice to just be in my head for a change.”
I’m relieved that this new patient is seemingly very ­laid-.­back given her ­self-.­described anxiety. Usually ­self-.­critical and low ­self-.­esteemed peo­ple don’t take to disruptions easily. But who knows what she’s conceal­ing in the interest of making a good first impression. “That’s great. Glad you had some good alone time. Do you feel ready for some more nee­dles?” She takes my face in for a long time, and I feel a blip of déjà vu. She nods and smiles and returns her gaze to the ceiling.
“I’m lucky to have stumbled onto your practice online. I’m so glad I didn’t take those Yelp reviews to heart; otherwise, I really would have missed out.”
Her comment seems ­well-.­intentioned, but it stings. I’ve likely lost a lot of potential new business because of the scathing online reviews, but I’ve long given up on trying to get them taken down. I gave up once I realized that for every screed I successfully got removed, two more would crop up in a futile and hateful game of Whac-­A-­Mole. All I can do is preserve the few loyal patients I have and cultivate the new ones, like Lucy, into hopefully becoming regulars.
“You have very steady hands! I guess that is important in your line of work.”
I nearly mention my former life, when my steady hands were my big­gest asset. I hold back, knowing that opening that topic of conversation is potentially riskier than satisfying my ego.
“Yes. Steady hands are very useful. But mostly, it’s about having an open mind and a love for healing. I’m especially passionate about help­ing people who haven’t been able to get relief from Western medicine.”
“Amen.” She closes her eyes in response.
“It sounds like that has been your experience.” I know I’m leading the witness, but I want to know more about what has brought her here, and Lucy’s been tentative with the details so far. I can sense that there is a lot more under the surface.
She nods thoughtfully as I begin placing needles along her lung chan­nel. She described depression, lack of motivation, and ­body-.­image issues during her consult, which can all be a result of stagnant energy flow in the areas where grief and loneliness reside.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t had a great track record with traditional doctors. I gave up on trying with them. It was very discouraging when I was at my sickest, but I’ve come to peace with it. For a bunch of know-­it-­alls, they struggle a lot with the basics, like how to treat patients as peo­ple, not just symptoms.”
I think about how much this statement applies to me, but in a very different context. I remain silent, and happily, she continues emerging from her shell. Often needles are very effective in drawing introverted people out.
“No use in blaming others for not being able to make you feel better. That’s what my mother always used to tell me, anyway.” She sighs. I get the impression that this conclusion has not been easily won for Lucy.
“Very wise. Some people live their whole lives without learning that.”
If I’m lucky enough that she returns, I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot more about her. People tend to increasingly open up on the table the longer they come to me. My friend Annelise has told me that I’m more effective than her therapist with my “sharp points, soft words, and heal­ing vibes.”
“All you can really do is take matters into your own hands,” Lucy says with more confidence than I’ve yet heard from her.
“Absolutely.” I like her. She’s got good, positive energy underneath the pain. Something I can relate to and that I’ve been trying to unearth hourly. But my sadness keeps creeping back into the lead. I lean over her and put a needle in her pericardium point and feel the channel open intensely.
“Whoa!” she cries out. “What was that?”
“Are you okay? Was it painful?” I take a step back to give her some space. The first major opening can be overwhelming for patients.
“No. It was ­just . . . wow. Like a jolt of energy through my whole body. All that from one little needle?” She is ­wide-.­eyed.
“It’s a point that correlates to the protective casing around your heart called the pericardium, which, among other things, protects it from overwhelming emotions. It’s a very powerful and moving point in acu­puncture.” I lean farther over her to insert another needle into one of her large intestine points, which opens significantly as well.
“Jesus! What was that one?”
“Your stomach ­channel—.­which can be related to anger, among other things.”
“Hmm. Funny. I’m not an angry person,” she says amicably.
I see her looking at the medallion Peter sent to me for my birthday a couple of months ago. It has come out of my shirt and is hovering above her heart area.
“Pretty! Is that an heirloom? It looks ­old . . . but in a good way!” We both laugh.
“Actually, it’s from my boyfriend. I should ask him if it’s an heirloom.” I pause from needling and take the copper coin in my hand, looking at it for the hundredth time.
“What does it mean?” she asks. My fingers trace the raised metal. I have gotten into the habit of absently fiddling with it when I’m day­dreaming so often that I sometimes wonder if I’m going to rub the Rod of Asclepius from the metal completely.
“It symbolizes health, healing, and peace.” She smiles. Peter sent it at the height of my being angry at him, and once I unwrapped it, I couldn’t stay mad. It was so thoughtful. He appreciates how much the aspects of my old life are still a crucial part of me, and how I want to heal myself as much as others. He gets me.
I place the necklace back in my shirt and take a pump of Purell be­tween my palms before I resume with her needles.
“Well, it’s lovely. And so great that you have a man in your life who gives you nice things. I never had one who really got the art of gift giving. I only got presents in the form of apologies.” I don’t share with her that the necklace was exactly that. I’ve moved on, so there is no need to dredge up the negative. She continues. “I’ve all but given up on men.” She sighs into a laugh. I sense more resigned sadness than humor.
“I understand. I’d all but given up too when I met Peter. Funny how that happens.”
“That is always the way, isn’t it?” She flutters her eyes open. “Do you treat him?” She nods in the direction of the needle I’ve just inserted along her inner elbow and twisted slightly. “­Needles-.­wise, I mean.”
“I don’t. As a general rule, I don’t treat romantic partners or family members.” I smile at the thought of having Peter on my table. I wonder if that will ever be a possibility. My mind shifts to an image of treating Mom, and I cringe. Luckily she’s just as averse to my treating her as I am, one of the rare things we agree on.
“What about friends?” she asks.
“Depends on the friend, but yes, generally I’ll treat friends,” I re­spond lightly.
“Good to have boundaries and keep business and pleasure separate. I’ve seen the opposite situation end badly more than once,” she says knowingly.
I reflexively think about my time with Henry and going from proté­gée to romantic partner. I’m batting a thousand with the negative thoughts today.
“Some people really struggle with that.” She holds my eyes for an uncomfortable moment and I wonder if she can read my thoughts. I have been one of those people, for sure.
I swat away the memory of my Henry days and swap in Peter. I really try not to think about him too much when I’m working, but it’s getting harder the longer he is gone. Handsome Peter. Dangerous Peter. Miss­ing Peter. It has been three weeks and no word, not even in code. But he swore that this was the week he would return.
He made me promise that I wouldn’t tell a soul if he disappeared and I’ve kept my ­word . . . for the most part. My heart aches thinking about him. I try not to let my mind wander to the worst. He’ll resurface again; I can feel it.
I finish inserting the rest of the needles. “So now all you have to do is breathe deeply and meditate if you can.”
“Meditate? I don’t really know how,” she admits.
“Try to focus on something simple that makes you happy, and keep coming back to your breath if your thoughts wander.”
“Okay.” She flutters her eyes closed and a smile spreads across her face. “Got it.”
“How do you feel?” Her shoulders have lowered from her ears and her mouth has gone slack.
“Wonderful. Actually, kind of stoned. Did you dip those needles in something?” She giggles.
“Nope. That is all you. You are experiencing the wonderful natural high of your body’s circuitry system flowing smoothly. Pretty incredi­ble, isn’t it?” I beam. It never fails to fill me with happiness when a new patient feels good.
“Remarkable. I feel like I’m healing already,” she says dreamily.
“I’ll be back for you in about twenty minutes.” I switch the overhead lights off.
“You’re going to leave me here in the dark, alone?” The smallness of her voice surprises me. But the needles can be very disarming. “What if something bad happens?”
“You’ll be fine. I promise nothing bad will happen.” My heart opens for her. “I’m right outside the door.” I’ve gotten it nearly shut when she speaks again.
“Charlotte?”
“Yes, Lucy?”
“Thank you. I really hope someone does this for you. You deserve it.”
Back at my desk, I log in to Yelp, something I vowed to myself and to Rachel that I would stop doing. The practice became so habitually mas­ochistic that I would often find myself checking in mindlessly multiple times an hour, even though it was repeatedly as painful as the mindless time before. But today, because of Lucy’s comment, I feel a strong pull to check. Part of me hopes that Peter might use the online review page as a place to communicate with me. “In plain sight can be the best place to send messages,” he’d told me when we started mapping out our secret codes.
The last time I logged on was four months ago, and Rachel, wonder­ful friend that she is, kindly offered to screen them for me and share any positive ones, and skip the negative ones so that I didn’t have to read how awful people think I am. Or the one person who does, who goes by many names, apparently. The most recent review is from just after I stopped looking at them, written by “Truthhurts,” with one star.
I would give Acupuncturist Charlotte Knopfler a negative 5 stars re­view if this app gave the option, but what I can’t communicate in stars, I’ll hopefully succeed with in words. THIS WOMAN IS THE WORST!! She shouldn’t be allowed to treat any other human beings for anything, let alone stick needles in them. She’s a careless and dangerous CRIMINAL. Take my word for it; do not give this woman access to your body or to your wallet unless you want your life ­ruined. She should be in jail.
The sudden sensation of wanting to fall through the floor into some alternate reality is acute. I can’t lose my shit while a client is in the ­office. No wonder Rachel offered to look at these; I should have known better. This one is the worst so far, or maybe it just feels that way because it’s the newest. I’m about to scroll through to challenge my the­ory and upset myself further, but my phone vibrates in the top drawer, where I keep it during sessions. I’m relieved for the distraction from the cruelty.
“Hello?”
“Can I please speak to Charlotte Knopfler?” I don’t recognize the overly ­official-.­sounding voice.
“Speaking.” I respond quietly for the sake of my patient.
“Ma’am, my name is Treat Allen. I’m calling from the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office.”
The world around me starts to tilt. I’m speechless and the voice continues.
“You were listed as the emergency contact of an individual who has come into our custody, and we are going to need you to come to our facility to make an identification. Are you able to do that today?”
All the saliva in my mouth has evaporated and I feel the hallmarks of a panic attack coming on. I put my head between my legs. My braid rests on the floor in a heap.
“­Who . . . ?” I am unable to contain the tears as they run down my forehead and into my hairline.
“Ma’am, unfortunately I cannot give out any further information. We’ll require you in person before we can continue this conversation. Do you need our location?”
“Yes.” I grab a pen and copy the information on the back of one of my business cards. “I’m on my way.”
I shakily gather my cell phone, bag, and keys and proceed to drop everything on the threshold of my office. I nearly fall into a heap and start sobbing. Peter. I know it’s him. My love. Dead. The worst possible thing that could happen, has.
Heart racing, I struggle with locking the door behind me. I spot my green Prius and hate myself for being happy this morning about something as meaningless as finding a nearby parking spot. Now this seeming stroke of lucky convenience will bring me that much closer and more quickly to my biggest fear.
A cold incoming winter wind bites the tips of my ears and I shiver through my tears. I’ve forgotten my coat in the rush, but I decide against going back for it. A couple of stoned teenagers walk by me and burst into laughter before entering the China Panda next door. I start the car, at­tempting to still my quaking hands, and prepare myself for the ­fifteen-.­minute drive from Smithtown to Stony Brook.
The afternoon sky is dark-­to-­light ombré. It feels much later than five thirty p.m. It takes me ten minutes of driving well over the speed limit and disregarding yellow lights before I realize that in my panicked state, I’ve left Lucy full of needles in my locked office.
Desperate, I forge on in the same direction and fumble for my phone to call Rachel, who doesn’t pick up. I hear the desperation in my own voice as I cry my need for help through the voice-­to-­text and hope she’s nearby. As soon as I get the last of my plea into the phone, the sky opens up and torrential rain engulfs my car, a sign from above that I should slow down or else. I feel reckless now, and panicked, and instead of de­celerating, I glide through a very yellow light. A car coming from the opposite direction in the turn lane slams on its horn and brakes, the loud honking reverberating in my head at top volume. The sky has darkened considerably and the rain is hard on the roof of my car and the wipers can barely clear the view for long enough to see mere inches in front of me. With each swish I pray for him to be okay and for my view to be­come clearer, and the harder it becomes to see in front of me.
Catastrophe is surrounding me on all sides now.



­TWO
CHARLOTTE
“Today is the day,” I say loudly, using volume as much as enthusiasm in my attempt to conjure Peter. He said he would be back this week, and I am running out of days on the calendar and doubling down on positivity.
When I woke up this morning, my intuition was strong. For the first morning since he went away, I genuinely felt the hopeful excitement of finally seeing him outweighing the negative, nagging pull that he’s gone away for good.
“He will come for me today.” I am specific in my intention. I close my eyes and picture a strong white light entering my body and radiating through me while time is suspended in the red traffic light, and I relish a few composing breaths before I start my day of interactions. The only sound I can hear is the soothing metronomic turn signal, click, click, click, click.
It’s a ­quieter-.­than-.­usual suburban weekday afternoon at the mouth of the parking lot, and I’m alone at the intersection. There is no one to look at me in judgment for talking to myself at full volume. Not a har­ried mom on her way to Pilates, or a car full of teenagers ­side-.­eyeing me, thinking, Crazy.
Then, as I enter the lot and near my corner of the complex, I practi­cally jump out of the moving car when I see a man standing in front of my office, his back to me. He is tall with dark hair, too far away to posi­tively identify, but it has to be him. I slow the car and squint, my heart blooming with hope, and I bounce in my seat like an excited toddler, but he’s moved out of sight behind one of the storefront pillars.
“Wait!” I bellow, then whip into a lane of open spaces. He’s already walked a good distance away by the time I pull into a parking spot mer­cifully close to my office door. I barely remember to shut off the engine and unfasten my seat belt before I’m out of the car.
“Peter!” I call after the steadily shrinking figure. He doesn’t hesitate in his next step or turn around. My heart sinks.
“Peter?” I say a little louder in volume, but lower in hope. He’s disap­peared around a corner before the “er” leaves my lips. I check the time on my phone to see if I have a few extra minutes before my next patient to give chase, but I only have two minutes until the appointment is scheduled to begin. I chastise myself for getting out of the car; I could have driven alongside him and easily caught up.
Fuck. I want to follow him, but I’m out of time. He’ll come back. Of course he will. I pull out my phone in the hope of a text from him, ask­ing where I am. Nothing.
I shakily put the key in the door. Was it really him? My desperation may be distorting my ability to see people clearly. I’m doubting every­thing lately. I should be able to recognize him by now, even at a distance. I fight against the negative ­self-.­talk that is bubbling over.
“Honestly, Charlotte. You can barely recognize yourself anymore. Get your shit together,” I mutter as the door glides open with an easy push.
“Excuse me? What did you just say to me?” The voice is so close, I feel the hair on the back of my head stand up.
I pivot sharply and we are face-­to-­face.
ccc
My hand is steady and I am poised to strike. The sun through the win­dow glints off the tip of the metal. Her blue eyes are wide with fear at the sharp point moving toward her chest. She swallows hard and looks away. In one quick move, I push the tip into her skin. She exhales sharply. I smile.
There are points on the outside of the human body where if you ap­ply enough pressure, say, with a sharp object, you can change an entire internal energy flow. You can turn someone into wet spaghetti or bring them to unconsciousness with the ­know-.­how. I pride myself on having mastered these vital points, outside and in.
I’ve never lost the thrill of seeing how they respond the first time. It’s a reminder of how powerful what I’m doing can be, and how powerless people are. How they confront the things that scare them tells a lot about their personality. In this case, she is openly afraid. I have only known her for inside an hour, but she already is an open book of inse­curity and fear. It’s a large part of what has brought her to me. And makes her an ideal candidate for what I do. I keep one hand on her arm to comfort her while I home in on the next entry point.
“How are you feeling, Lucy?” I say gently as I move around the table and push the point into the crook of her left arm.
“When are you putting the next one in?” she questions nervously.
“Already done. You didn’t even notice. How does it feel so far?” I ask her.
“Strange. Tingly. Does that mean it’s working?” she responds.
“Tingling can indicate that your ­qi—.­your energy ­flow—.­is being moved along, which is the goal. So you are doing great.” I know based on her consult interview earlier that she is highly ­self-.­critical and suffer­ing from majorly low ­self-.­esteem, two character traits that can manifest physiologically in a number of insidious ways.
“Oh good. My body doesn’t always cooperate when I introduce it to new things. Mainly exercise or dieting.” She releases a laugh that sounds more wounded than amused and ­self-.­consciously puts her right arm over her midsection. ­Body-.­image issues are very apparent in her. There is a lot to work on here; she is the kind of challenging patient I like.
“The wonderful thing about acupuncture is that you don’t have to do much. Just lie back, breathe deeply, and let me do the hard part.”
Once I explained my negative ­self-.­talk at the door when she was ar­riving at the same time as I was, we had an awkward laugh and she graciously let me properly introduce myself before we got started. It was not how I wanted to begin with a new client, and I’m lucky she has a sense of humor.
“How does it actually work? I tried to do some research online, but you know how unreliable the Internet can be.” She groans. “I try to stay offline as much as possible, so I decided to hold off and ask the profes­sional. I’m also hopeless with anything computer related.”
“Smart thinking. Googling anything is often more frightening than educational. I can recommend some great books about acupuncture if you are interested.”
“Sure. I love to read.”
“Great. I’ll write them down for you before you leave.” I put a needle in her third eye, the space between her eyebrows, which is an incredibly calming point.
“Basically, we are made up of energy, and sometimes what is hap­pening in our heads, coupled with our diet and lifestyle choices, can negatively affect our bodies’ ability to connect all this powerful energy flow, and things get blocked. In Chinese medicine, organs correlate to particular emotions. Stored-­up trauma from our lives can accumulate and manifest in a number of physical ailments. Everyday stresses and daily pollutants, from the air we breathe to the food we put in our bod­ies to the toxic people we encounter, can overload our systems. All of these factors add up and our organs can’t do their jobs fully, so problems arise. The needles help open your pathways.” I’ve moved to her large intestine meridian. “If our body is a racetrack of energy, the places where energy gets blocked are like little car accidents along the way. I use the needles to clear the road and keep everything moving smoothly.”
She seems impressed with my explanation. Her breathing has deep­ened and her nervous system has calmed. I am happy that she is reacting so positively, and so quickly.
“How are the needles feeling so far? Anything bothering you? Any aching or sharp pains?”
“I’m great, actually. I can barely feel them going in, and once they are, I feel a nice body buzz. Like I’m in one of those massage chairs at the nail salon, but on a low setting.”
“That is a great metaphor! I might have to use it.”
She’s pleased. “Of course. Use away.”
I don’t have my next needle completely out of its plastic casing when I hear the front door buzzer. Damn. Since Rachel isn’t in, and we don’t have the budget for a receptionist these days, I can either ignore it or interrupt my session, which I’d rather not do with a new patient. I de­cide to ignore it and pull the needle the rest of the way out. The buzzer sounds again and is followed by a pretty aggressive knock. Whoever it is clearly is not going away. My stomach flips. I don’t have any other patients today, and according to the schedule, neither does Rachel. It has to be Peter. My heart does a triple axel.
“Lucy, I’m so sorry. Would you excuse me for a minute? I wasn’t ex­pecting anyone. I should go check and see who it is.” I put the ­still-.­sheathed needle on the side table.
“No problem,” she replies amicably.
I slip out the door and make my way past our shared “reception area,” which is simply an IKEA desk topped with a box of Kleenex, my laptop, and a ­wood-.­and-.­stone Cairn fountain. When I open the door, my eyes are met with jade irises so striking that a small current of electricity travels from the top of my head to my feet. It’s the man from earlier. And he clearly is not Peter from this angle. Disappointment envelops me.
“Hi. Can I help you?” I stay squarely in the doorway so he doesn’t enter the office.
“Hi. I’m Jack.” He reaches his hand out confidently. I peg him as a salesman, but I’m not sure what he’s selling yet. I give him a small friendly wave instead.
“I’d shake your hand, but I’m treating someone right now.”
He looks me up and down quickly and corrects himself by casting a laser focus on my face. “Charlotte?” he asks.
“Have we met?”
“Nope, just a lucky guess.” From each of his hands, he waves our two business cards, which live in two slots next to our entrance door. He looks at each of our cards again and chuckles. “My odds were good.”
“Are you looking for Rachel?” I shift to lean on the door frame to further my not inviting him inside, trying not to let the impatience in my body escape into my words.
“Maybe? Or maybe I’m looking for you?” He lets that sink in and is clearly pleased when I don’t respond right away aside from looking away from him quickly.
Normally, I’d be more repelled by his brashness, but he’s got sexual energy and appeal wafting off of him that I’m picking up on pretty strongly. I’m surprised by how much I’m reacting to this complete stranger standing a few feet away from me, in the midst of my disap­pointment.
I clear my throat. “Do you have an appointment with Rachel?” It’s possible that he was a late add and she didn’t put him into the system, or one of them got the day or time mixed up.
“No. But I was walking ­by—.­I’ve passed your office a number of times, ­actually—.­I like the China Panda lunch ­special—.­and finally de­cided to come in. I think you, or Rachel, might be exactly what I need to feel better.” His smile is crooked, and on a less handsome man, it could look more like a case of dental neglect.
I’m struggling to parse innuendo from confidence. He could easily be a creep who only saw “massage” on the door, totally disregarded the other words, “reflexologist,” “acupuncturist,” and “Reiki healer,” and slithered in thinking he would get a hand job after his dim sum. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time.
“Well, I’m actually with a patient right now, but if you want to come back in half an hour, I could help you make an appointment. Were you looking for a sports massage?” I’m not getting an openness-­to-­Eastern-.­modalities vibe from him. His clothing and haircut paint more ex–.­lacrosse player turned broker type. Not my type in any realm of my life, yet he is annoyingly magnetic. I check myself. I am not available. I am deeply in love with my boyfriend.
“What do you do?” He’s kept eye contact well enough and his body language is open and nonthreatening, but there’s something about him that isn’t sitting right with me.
“Acupuncture and Reiki.”
His face draws into an expression of thoughtfulness, and he tugs at an invisible beard for effect. He reminds me of someone from my past, but I can’t figure out who.
“Force of habit. I actually had a beard up until last week, but I gave myself a makeover. I feel naked without it.”
I’d rather not think of this man naked, but of course that is where my mind goes. I quickly drop that image and think about Peter’s beard. How much I’ve thought about kissing him in the last month. I hear Lucy cough and shift on the bed from behind the closed door. The office is smaller than ideal, but it is what I can afford right now.
“Sorry. I really need to get back to my patient.”
“Patient? Or client?” His face hardens momentarily before he softens into a smile when he sees my posture go from neutral to rigid fast.
“Excuse me?”
“Oh, sorry. No disrespect. Wasn’t sure how that worked with ­non-.­MDs.” He grins.
Technically, I’m still an MD, but I won’t correct him. His charm has jumped the shark and I’m ready to be free of him. I used to only spend my days with men like him. Working alongside, sleeping next to. Lov­ing and fearing. I frown and I can see him register this change in me.
“I apologize. I offended you. I am trying to work on that.”
I don’t take the bait. I don’t need to hear about whatever this man is working on in himself. I’m retired from worrying about the ­self-.­improvements of charming but flawed men.
“No problem. Why don’t you check out our website and you can book an appointment that way.” I make no attempt to line my tone to sound particularly inviting. He’s fully under my skin and I’m not lik­ing it.
“Maybe you can even fit me in this afternoon?” The cognitive disso­nance between my distaste at his arrogance and the curiosity of what his body would feel like against mine is disorienting.
“I’ll have to look at my schedule for this afternoon, but I don’t believe I have any openings.” The practical side of me is yelling that not only do I have openings, but I desperately need to fill my dwindling patient ros­ter if I want to stay in business. All the other parts of me are preferring to ignore the conflicting ­attraction-.­and-.­aversion piece, as I’m really not in the mood to endure ­low-.­level harassment from this dude in the form of James Spader in Pretty in Pink. That’s it! I’m relieved to land on who his behavior is reminding me of, and now that I have, I don’t know if I can see him any other way.
“You can also book online,” I reiterate.
“I prefer to live my life offline,” he says without a trace of irony and runs a hand through his hair and moves to leave, having the last words. “See you later, then. Looking forward to it.” He turns on his heels and makes his way in the direction of the China Panda. He’s clearly a man who doesn’t take no for an answer.
My least favorite kind.
ccc
“I’m so sorry about that, Lucy.” She rolls her head toward me, a smile settled across her face. I wash my hands at the small sink to the right of the door before resuming my position next to her.
“No problem. I was just getting in some ­much-.­needed me time. Nice to just be in my head for a change.”
I’m relieved that this new patient is seemingly very ­laid-.­back given her ­self-.­described anxiety. Usually ­self-.­critical and low ­self-.­esteemed peo­ple don’t take to disruptions easily. But who knows what she’s conceal­ing in the interest of making a good first impression. “That’s great. Glad you had some good alone time. Do you feel ready for some more nee­dles?” She takes my face in for a long time, and I feel a blip of déjà vu. She nods and smiles and returns her gaze to the ceiling.
“I’m lucky to have stumbled onto your practice online. I’m so glad I didn’t take those Yelp reviews to heart; otherwise, I really would have missed out.”
Her comment seems ­well-.­intentioned, but it stings. I’ve likely lost a lot of potential new business because of the scathing online reviews, but I’ve long given up on trying to get them taken down. I gave up once I realized that for every screed I successfully got removed, two more would crop up in a futile and hateful game of Whac-­A-­Mole. All I can do is preserve the few loyal patients I have and cultivate the new ones, like Lucy, into hopefully becoming regulars.
“You have very steady hands! I guess that is important in your line of work.”
I nearly mention my former life, when my steady hands were my big­gest asset. I hold back, knowing that opening that topic of conversation is potentially riskier than satisfying my ego.
“Yes. Steady hands are very useful. But mostly, it’s about having an open mind and a love for healing. I’m especially passionate about help­ing people who haven’t been able to get relief from Western medicine.”
“Amen.” She closes her eyes in response.
“It sounds like that has been your experience.” I know I’m leading the witness, but I want to know more about what has brought her here, and Lucy’s been tentative with the details so far. I can sense that there is a lot more under the surface.
She nods thoughtfully as I begin placing needles along her lung chan­nel. She described depression, lack of motivation, and ­body-.­image issues during her consult, which can all be a result of stagnant energy flow in the areas where grief and loneliness reside.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t had a great track record with traditional doctors. I gave up on trying with them. It was very discouraging when I was at my sickest, but I’ve come to peace with it. For a bunch of know-­it-­alls, they struggle a lot with the basics, like how to treat patients as peo­ple, not just symptoms.”
I think about how much this statement applies to me, but in a very different context. I remain silent, and happily, she continues emerging from her shell. Often needles are very effective in drawing introverted people out.
“No use in blaming others for not being able to make you feel better. That’s what my mother always used to tell me, anyway.” She sighs. I get the impression that this conclusion has not been easily won for Lucy.
“Very wise. Some people live their whole lives without learning that.”
If I’m lucky enough that she returns, I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot more about her. People tend to increasingly open up on the table the longer they come to me. My friend Annelise has told me that I’m more effective than her therapist with my “sharp points, soft words, and heal­ing vibes.”
“All you can really do is take matters into your own hands,” Lucy says with more confidence than I’ve yet heard from her.
“Absolutely.” I like her. She’s got good, positive energy underneath the pain. Something I can relate to and that I’ve been trying to unearth hourly. But my sadness keeps creeping back into the lead. I lean over her and put a needle in her pericardium point and feel the channel open intensely.
“Whoa!” she cries out. “What was that?”
“Are you okay? Was it painful?” I take a step back to give her some space. The first major opening can be overwhelming for patients.
“No. It was ­just . . . wow. Like a jolt of energy through my whole body. All that from one little needle?” She is ­wide-.­eyed.
“It’s a point that correlates to the protective casing around your heart called the pericardium, which, among other things, protects it from overwhelming emotions. It’s a very powerful and moving point in acu­puncture.” I lean farther over her to insert another needle into one of her large intestine points, which opens significantly as well.
“Jesus! What was that one?”
“Your stomach ­channel—.­which can be related to anger, among other things.”
“Hmm. Funny. I’m not an angry person,” she says amicably.
I see her looking at the medallion Peter sent to me for my birthday a couple of months ago. It has come out of my shirt and is hovering above her heart area.
“Pretty! Is that an heirloom? It looks ­old . . . but in a good way!” We both laugh.
“Actually, it’s from my boyfriend. I should ask him if it’s an heirloom.” I pause from needling and take the copper coin in my hand, looking at it for the hundredth time.
“What does it mean?” she asks. My fingers trace the raised metal. I have gotten into the habit of absently fiddling with it when I’m day­dreaming so often that I sometimes wonder if I’m going to rub the Rod of Asclepius from the metal completely.
“It symbolizes health, healing, and peace.” She smiles. Peter sent it at the height of my being angry at him, and once I unwrapped it, I couldn’t stay mad. It was so thoughtful. He appreciates how much the aspects of my old life are still a crucial part of me, and how I want to heal myself as much as others. He gets me.
I place the necklace back in my shirt and take a pump of Purell be­tween my palms before I resume with her needles.
“Well, it’s lovely. And so great that you have a man in your life who gives you nice things. I never had one who really got the art of gift giving. I only got presents in the form of apologies.” I don’t share with her that the necklace was exactly that. I’ve moved on, so there is no need to dredge up the negative. She continues. “I’ve all but given up on men.” She sighs into a laugh. I sense more resigned sadness than humor.
“I understand. I’d all but given up too when I met Peter. Funny how that happens.”
“That is always the way, isn’t it?” She flutters her eyes open. “Do you treat him?” She nods in the direction of the needle I’ve just inserted along her inner elbow and twisted slightly. “­Needles-.­wise, I mean.”
“I don’t. As a general rule, I don’t treat romantic partners or family members.” I smile at the thought of having Peter on my table. I wonder if that will ever be a possibility. My mind shifts to an image of treating Mom, and I cringe. Luckily she’s just as averse to my treating her as I am, one of the rare things we agree on.
“What about friends?” she asks.
“Depends on the friend, but yes, generally I’ll treat friends,” I re­spond lightly.
“Good to have boundaries and keep business and pleasure separate. I’ve seen the opposite situation end badly more than once,” she says knowingly.
I reflexively think about my time with Henry and going from proté­gée to romantic partner. I’m batting a thousand with the negative thoughts today.
“Some people really struggle with that.” She holds my eyes for an uncomfortable moment and I wonder if she can read my thoughts. I have been one of those people, for sure.
I swat away the memory of my Henry days and swap in Peter. I really try not to think about him too much when I’m working, but it’s getting harder the longer he is gone. Handsome Peter. Dangerous Peter. Miss­ing Peter. It has been three weeks and no word, not even in code. But he swore that this was the week he would return.
He made me promise that I wouldn’t tell a soul if he disappeared and I’ve kept my ­word . . . for the most part. My heart aches thinking about him. I try not to let my mind wander to the worst. He’ll resurface again; I can feel it.
I finish inserting the rest of the needles. “So now all you have to do is breathe deeply and meditate if you can.”
“Meditate? I don’t really know how,” she admits.
“Try to focus on something simple that makes you happy, and keep coming back to your breath if your thoughts wander.”
“Okay.” She flutters her eyes closed and a smile spreads across her face. “Got it.”
“How do you feel?” Her shoulders have lowered from her ears and her mouth has gone slack.
“Wonderful. Actually, kind of stoned. Did you dip those needles in something?” She giggles.
“Nope. That is all you. You are experiencing the wonderful natural high of your body’s circuitry system flowing smoothly. Pretty incredi­ble, isn’t it?” I beam. It never fails to fill me with happiness when a new patient feels good.
“Remarkable. I feel like I’m healing already,” she says dreamily.
“I’ll be back for you in about twenty minutes.” I switch the overhead lights off.
“You’re going to leave me here in the dark, alone?” The smallness of her voice surprises me. But the needles can be very disarming. “What if something bad happens?”
“You’ll be fine. I promise nothing bad will happen.” My heart opens for her. “I’m right outside the door.” I’ve gotten it nearly shut when she speaks again.
“Charlotte?”
“Yes, Lucy?”
“Thank you. I really hope someone does this for you. You deserve it.”
Back at my desk, I log in to Yelp, something I vowed to myself and to Rachel that I would stop doing. The practice became so habitually mas­ochistic that I would often find myself checking in mindlessly multiple times an hour, even though it was repeatedly as painful as the mindless time before. But today, because of Lucy’s comment, I feel a strong pull to check. Part of me hopes that Peter might use the online review page as a place to communicate with me. “In plain sight can be the best place to send messages,” he’d told me when we started mapping out our secret codes.
The last time I logged on was four months ago, and Rachel, wonder­ful friend that she is, kindly offered to screen them for me and share any positive ones, and skip the negative ones so that I didn’t have to read how awful people think I am. Or the one person who does, who goes by many names, apparently. The most recent review is from just after I stopped looking at them, written by “Truthhurts,” with one star.
I would give Acupuncturist Charlotte Knopfler a negative 5 stars re­view if this app gave the option, but what I can’t communicate in stars, I’ll hopefully succeed with in words. THIS WOMAN IS THE WORST!! She shouldn’t be allowed to treat any other human beings for anything, let alone stick needles in them. She’s a careless and dangerous CRIMINAL. Take my word for it; do not give this woman access to your body or to your wallet unless you want your life ­ruined. She should be in jail.
The sudden sensation of wanting to fall through the floor into some alternate reality is acute. I can’t lose my shit while a client is in the ­office. No wonder Rachel offered to look at these; I should have known better. This one is the worst so far, or maybe it just feels that way because it’s the newest. I’m about to scroll through to challenge my the­ory and upset myself further, but my phone vibrates in the top drawer, where I keep it during sessions. I’m relieved for the distraction from the cruelty.
“Hello?”
“Can I please speak to Charlotte Knopfler?” I don’t recognize the overly ­official-.­sounding voice.
“Speaking.” I respond quietly for the sake of my patient.
“Ma’am, my name is Treat Allen. I’m calling from the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office.”
The world around me starts to tilt. I’m speechless and the voice continues.
“You were listed as the emergency contact of an individual who has come into our custody, and we are going to need you to come to our facility to make an identification. Are you able to do that today?”
All the saliva in my mouth has evaporated and I feel the hallmarks of a panic attack coming on. I put my head between my legs. My braid rests on the floor in a heap.
“­Who . . . ?” I am unable to contain the tears as they run down my forehead and into my hairline.
“Ma’am, unfortunately I cannot give out any further information. We’ll require you in person before we can continue this conversation. Do you need our location?”
“Yes.” I grab a pen and copy the information on the back of one of my business cards. “I’m on my way.”
I shakily gather my cell phone, bag, and keys and proceed to drop everything on the threshold of my office. I nearly fall into a heap and start sobbing. Peter. I know it’s him. My love. Dead. The worst possible thing that could happen, has.
Heart racing, I struggle with locking the door behind me. I spot my green Prius and hate myself for being happy this morning about something as meaningless as finding a nearby parking spot. Now this seeming stroke of lucky convenience will bring me that much closer and more quickly to my biggest fear.
A cold incoming winter wind bites the tips of my ears and I shiver through my tears. I’ve forgotten my coat in the rush, but I decide against going back for it. A couple of stoned teenagers walk by me and burst into laughter before entering the China Panda next door. I start the car, at­tempting to still my quaking hands, and prepare myself for the ­fifteen-.­minute drive from Smithtown to Stony Brook.
The afternoon sky is dark-­to-­light ombré. It feels much later than five thirty p.m. It takes me ten minutes of driving well over the speed limit and disregarding yellow lights before I realize that in my panicked state, I’ve left Lucy full of needles in my locked office.
Desperate, I forge on in the same direction and fumble for my phone to call Rachel, who doesn’t pick up. I hear the desperation in my own voice as I cry my need for help through the voice-­to-­text and hope she’s nearby. As soon as I get the last of my plea into the phone, the sky opens up and torrential rain engulfs my car, a sign from above that I should slow down or else. I feel reckless now, and panicked, and instead of de­celerating, I glide through a very yellow light. A car coming from the opposite direction in the turn lane slams on its horn and brakes, the loud honking reverberating in my head at top volume. The sky has darkened considerably and the rain is hard on the roof of my car and the wipers can barely clear the view for long enough to see mere inches in front of me. With each swish I pray for him to be okay and for my view to be­come clearer, and the harder it becomes to see in front of me.
Catastrophe is surrounding me on all sides now.

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