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Hiding Patty
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©2012, ©2014

Chapter 31

Henry may have had a relatively good night, but Tricia didn’t. She was awake longer than she should have been, mostly holding him in her arms. She was aware that this was a crisis with a capital “C,” one that she felt sure at least had the potential of breaking them up. It was not because she wanted to or he might want to, but because his long-held feelings of responsibility for Cindy might lead him to thinking about going back to Decatur to take care of her, despite the prospects he had here, which included both Tricia and his job. As she’d said, one of the things she’d admired most about him was his innate sense of loyalty. If he hadn’t had that, she might not even have been thinking about the possibility of getting so close to him she might be forced to reveal her secret history. He had, after all, kept Cindy’s secret long after the need had passed, and Tricia knew he’d felt both guilty and perhaps disloyal about revealing it to her last winter at all.

There wasn’t much she could do about it, other than to do her best to try to remind him of what he would be giving up if he fell prey to his own conscience.

The alarm went off much too early as far as she was concerned, but they’d agreed the night before that he needed to get an early start in hopes of getting down to Decatur in time to be able to do something useful that day. Though the pill she’d given him probably still had some effect on him, he seemed to be keyed up and ready to go.

“Look, Henry,” she said before he left. “I’m sorry I can’t go with you, but you know why. However, I’ll keep my cell phone on and in my pocket this afternoon. Give me a call as soon as you know anything. I’ll try to give you what advice and help I can. That isn’t exactly my field, but I have a little experience with it and maybe something useful will fall out.”

“I promise,” he said. “Shit, Tricia, I still don’t want to do this, but I don’t see how I have any choice.”

“I know,” she replied, taking him in her arms. “Henry, just one thing. Never forget that you have someone here who loves you and cares for you. Don’t let your sense of responsibility overrule your good judgment, because there could be a lot of trouble down that road, and it might not work out very well for anybody.”

“I promise,” he told her. “That’s what makes this so hard.”

“Would you like some breakfast before you go?”

“No, it would take too much time. I’ll grab something from a drive-through down on the ring road around Camden, along with a big cup of coffee.”

“Maybe you ought to grab a big cup of coffee out at the Qwikee Stop or something before you even get on the road to Camden.”

“Not a bad idea,” he replied. “Tricia, I better get moving, but whatever happens, I love you.”

“I love you too, Henry. Don’t forget it.”

Once Henry was on his way Tricia decided to go back to bed and try to get some sleep; it was still pretty early for her. But sleep wouldn’t come; she lay awake for most of an hour, worried about Henry and what this huge interruption in their lives might cause. Finally she could take it no longer. Though it was still pretty early, she got up and got dressed for work.

She thought about making her own breakfast – she still had a tendency to stick with Wheaties and milk if left to herself, but realized today she needed something more than that. Though she was a little more confident in the kitchen than she had been before she’d started going with Henry, it still seemed like too much of an effort. Once she was ready to go she got in the Caliber and drove out to the Spearfish Lake Café, out near the corner of Central and the state road. There, among the plant workers and construction people, loggers and businessmen getting ready for their day’s work, she found a quiet booth in back, and worried.

Her worries had gotten hold of her now. She could see many ways in which this could louse things royally between Henry and her. Now that she’d finally seemed to have found her place and a partner to go with it, it seemed to be on the verge of slipping from her fingers. As it turned out, she only picked at her breakfast and sipped at her coffee, wondering if the things she’d been hoping for were falling to pieces right in front of her eyes.

Tricia wasn’t a very happy camper when she walked into the office a few minutes before it opened. Of course, Molly was cheerful and asked how the surfing weekend had gone, and by now it was hard to remember that they’d even had one. “Oh, just fine,” she replied, knowing that it was listless but unable to be enough of an actress to present a state of more cheer. “I fell in a lot, but we had fun.”

Molly could detect the truth behind her words. “Dr. York, did something go wrong?”

“No, not really,” she said. “We had a good time, but I didn’t sleep very well last night. Keep the coffee warm today, I might need it.”

Apparently Molly got the message that Tricia was upset, but not likely to say anything else, and right at the moment this was nothing Tricia wanted to talk about with anyone but Henry.

At least the morning went well. The patients were routine, with normal problems she could usually help them with, at least a bit. She tried to keep her mind on them, and present a pleasant attitude, but Henry was still never far from her mind.

When lunchtime rolled around, Tricia begged off her normal routine meal with Molly and Heather, not really wanting them to pry into what was preoccupying her. One of the things she and Henry had worked out the night before was that she’d take care of returning the camping equipment to Spearfish Lake Outfitters, and that would at least get her out of the office. The return managed that, and didn’t take long, but there was still quite a bit of the lunch period left, so she drove the Caliber over to the Frostee Freeze, an old drive-in that still somehow managed to have carhops, the closest thing to fast food that Spearfish Lake possessed. It wasn’t terribly busy with most of the customers just kids who were hanging around, but she was able to park under the awning. After she had the carhop bring her a burger and an order of fries she sat there nibbling on her lunch without much enthusiasm until it was time to head back to the office.

There was a steady stream of patients all afternoon, enough to stay busy without being rushed about it, but that didn’t take her mind off what might be happening far to the south. Half a dozen times she checked to see that her cell phone was on, but it always was. It was still too early to expect to hear much of anything from Henry, and she didn’t until mid-afternoon, when she got a text message from him saying that he’d arrived in Decatur all right, was at the hospital, and was trying to find out what he could.

She glanced at the clock; he’d made damn good time getting down to Decatur. He must have not stopped for much more than gas, she thought.

But there was no more word the rest of the afternoon. She was glad to see the last patient of the day depart, to be able to lock up the office and go home to wait for whatever seemed to be happening to her life.

Even sitting around home was boring and made her nervous. She thought about getting out a book, but nothing appealed to her. Finally, for lack of anything better to do, she decided to pull on the conservative one-piece white swimsuit and stroll up the street to the beach, just lie out in the late afternoon sun a little and watch the activity. It wouldn’t solve anything, but at least it was something to pass the time. The cell phone went into her beach bag, along with a beat-up blanket and a towel, although it seemed unlikely she’d get very near the water, at least until she heard from Henry.

It was pleasant to sit out near the water, to watch the activity on the relatively empty beach. It wasn’t taking her mind off the problem. She knew she had a tendency to be obsessive – she could not have gotten through medical school without it, not even get close to medical school – but the obsessions about Henry and what might be happening were crowding her now.

When she heard the cell phone ringing in her bag she all but clawed the bag open to answer it. Thank god, it was Henry. “What happened?” she asked without preamble.

“Good question,” he said. “You were right, they wouldn’t tell me shit. I did manage to find out she was so heavily sedated I couldn’t see her, not that I wanted to anyway.”

“I told you that might happen. So, what now?”

“I did find out a few things,” he said. “Not from the hospital, but I still have some friends down here, and one of them is a detective with the city cops. He didn’t handle the case but he was able to access the file for me.”

“They have a file on her?”

“I guess they investigate all suicide attempts,” he said. “I mean, I sort of knew that from when I worked down here, but I’d never really needed to look into it before. Anyway, this was something that was sort of confidential, but this guy owes me a couple from back a while, so I was able to bullshit him into it. To make a long story short, she took a shitload of pills, then apparently went out to a restaurant and collapsed there. They called 911, and that was how the cops heard about it. There was a note in her apartment that mentioned my name, and they found my phone number on her desk. That’s why they called me in the first place.”

Something felt very fishy about the report to Tricia. There was a nagging little suspicion that, based on her experience, was a little more than a simple suspicion. “Henry,” she said, “what kind of pills did she take, and how many?”

“Just a second,” he replied. “I have a sort of bootleg copy of the report here but I’ll have to get it out of my pocket.”

She sat up now, the phone still glued to her ear. In the background she could hear a faint rustle of paper. Finally, he said, “Here it is,” and read off the name of a drug that was familiar to her. “The cops aren’t sure how many of them she took, but they guess it was no less than twelve or a maximum of eighteen. That was all there were supposed to be from the label on the bottle, and it’s dated back a while so she might have taken some of them at some other time.”

The suspicion wasn’t just in the back of her mind any longer; it was waving flags. “Henry,” she said, “I never asked you, but just how big a woman is she?”

“Oh, she’s bigger than you are, more solid, but not as big as I am.”

“Any idea of body weight?”

“Good question. She never liked to talk about it, but if I had to guess it wouldn’t be very far shy of two hundred.”

“Henry,” she said, “the odds are real huge she didn’t intend to commit suicide.”

“You mean she overdosed accidentally?”

“No. If she took the full dose at that body mass, that many of those pills might kill her, or they might not; it’s a toss-up that depends on other factors. Anything very much less, she’d be sick as hell, but they wouldn’t kill her. Look, it’s entirely possible she intended to kill herself, but just didn’t dose herself high enough, but the odds are she didn’t actually intend to.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure,” she said. “Nothing is a hundred percent sure in something like this, but remember, I’ve worked emergency room rotations and I’ve seen this before, and right now I’m talking to you as your doctor, not your girlfriend. Look, she was living alone, right?”

“As far as I know.”

“Then why did she go to a restaurant? It wasn’t because she wanted to die; it was because she wanted someone to find her before she did. Like I said, Henry, I’ve seen this kind of grandstand play before.”

“Grandstand play?”

“That isn’t the term the psychiatrists use, but that’s what it looks like to me, and that was the term that was used colloquially around the ER I worked in,” she said. “My guess is that she did it to get your attention, to get you to rush to her side, nothing more.”

“Well, son of a bitch!” he swore. “Shit, now that you mention it, I wouldn’t put it past her, either.”

“I’m just guessing, which is all I can do without talking to her attending physician, but it could be that it’s the reason you haven’t heard from her for a while, so you could get a little worried about her. Remember, she has a record of planning these things, at least from the stories you told me. The business about planning the shooting, or the planning to go to Alaska to piss off her mother, for example. Those weren’t spur-of-the-moment things, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t, either.”

“Son of a bitch,” he said again. “She came goddamn close to sucking me in on it, too. Tricia, what do I do now?”

“What I would like you to do is just get in your car and come home. God, I miss you, Henry. But it would be nice if somehow you could talk to her attending physician. They may not tell you anything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell them something that will be useful to them. It would be nice if you could let her know her grandstand play didn’t work, but I don’t know if I’d advise you to tell her yourself.”

“From what I know of the hospital, I probably won’t be able to talk to anyone until tomorrow sometime.”

“It would be good if you could,” she said. “It might help, or at least it might give them a handle on what to do for her. Beyond that, there’s not much you can do.”

“Is she likely to try something like this again?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “In this sort of thing you never can tell. That’s why it would be good to talk to her attending physician. If he won’t talk to you, at least write him a detailed letter describing what we’ve talked about just now, and the history behind her dramatic planning. That would be about the best you can do for her. Beyond that, I can’t tell, and maybe the attending won’t be able to either. But it might give them something to work with.”

“At least I managed to throw my laptop in,” he said. “I think what I’ll do is find a motel room, sit down and start typing. And I think maybe I’ll write a letter to her telling her it didn’t work, and I won’t respond if she pulls something like this again.”

“That sounds like a good idea, but you might want to run it past her attending before you give it to her. The attending might want to use it as a tool when the timing is right.”

“All right, I’ll get it done tonight. With any kind of luck I can start back tomorrow. There’s a couple other things I need to do down here as long as I’m here.”

“Don’t kill yourself coming back, Henry. This is your girlfriend talking now, not your doctor, but I miss you and I can’t wait for you to be back.”

“Tomorrow evening, maybe, depending on how it goes. I’ll keep in touch.”

“Take care, Henry. I love you and I miss you.”

“I do too, Tricia,” he grinned. “I can’t wait to get back to you.”

Tricia snapped the cell phone closed, got up, and folded her towel and blanket. She felt a hell of a lot better now. She decided to head back home and try out a recipe to see if it worked before she tried it out on Henry.

*   *   *

As it worked out there were some complications, things that took longer than they might have done, so Henry didn’t get back to Spearfish Lake until Wednesday evening. She already knew many of the details; they’d exchanged several phone calls, and she had even taken a phone call from Cindy’s attending physician. Of course, she’d told him that everything she knew was secondhand, but correct as far as she knew, and couldn’t go into much more detail than that.

Upon arrival, Henry took little more time than needed for a bathroom break before he was knocking on her door. Even though she’d known he was heading back to her, it didn’t keep her from giving him a warm kiss to show her relief in seeing him again. Soon, they were sitting on her couch, not terribly close together, mostly so they could make eye contact while they talked.

“Tricia,” he said, “I am so glad that’s over with it’s not funny. If I hadn’t called you, I don’t know what I would have wound up doing, except that it probably would have been the wrong thing. But as far as that goes, that first call finally settled things between me and Cindy.”

“How’s that?”

He took a deep breath. “Look, you know almost as well as I do that I supported her and hung onto her a lot longer than I should have. Like I said, I felt a real responsibility to her. But frankly, if she’s going to pull that kind of shit on me, I feel my responsibility is over with. She’s been an issue hanging over me for a long time, Tricia. That’s ended now. It’s over and done with. I more than kept up my end of the deal. Nothing was settled when I left, but it looks like they’re going to ask for a ninety-day commitment. I don’t know if that’s going to straighten her out, or if anything can. But it might. In any case, I’m not going to worry very much about it.”

“Henry, that almost sounds a little hard-hearted of you.”

“It may be,” he said. “But very little I ever did got through to her. Nothing I’ve done for her since high school has helped her with any of the basic problems she’s had ever since I’ve known her. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it while I was driving, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing I can do is to quit trying and let someone else have a swing at it. I hate to give up and I know it sounds hard-hearted of me, but what the hell else can I do?”

“It’s probably the right thing to do, but it has to be hard to give up,” she sighed.

“Look, I thought about a lot of things, all the way down there, and all the way back. I’ve been trying to put her behind me for months, and I think it took this episode to manage it. I know it’s held back on the feelings I have for you, but it isn’t a factor anymore. I love you, Tricia. I somehow never expected things to work out quite this way, but I realize now you’re the woman I’ve really been waiting years for. Maybe it’s best it worked out this way, since I held onto Cindy long enough to meet you.”

“I have to say I think I’m glad you did hang on this long,” she smiled. “Otherwise you might not have been available when I was ready for you. But I’m glad it worked out.”

“Tricia, like I said, I thought about it a lot all the way down there, and especially all the way back. I think it’s time to put the past behind us, and take the next step. Tricia, I love you and I’d be deeply honored if you’d marry me.”

Oh, shit, she thought. I didn’t expect that quite this soon! He may have straightened out his Cindy issues as a result of this episode – or at least thought he had – but she hadn’t really made any progress on her Peppermint Patty issues, not that in some ways she would ever be able to. For months she’d been flipping the tell-him or don’t-tell-him issue over in her mind, and about the only conclusion she’d reached was that she didn’t feel very honest about covering it up from him if things were to reach this point. It would be, at best, a hell of a poor way to treat him, and could be the basis for a really nasty break-up if things went further.

Suddenly the decision became clear in her mind – at least as clear as it was likely to get. “Henry,” she said, “this is very difficult for me. I’d like nothing better than to be married to you. However, at this moment I can’t tell you ‘yes’ in good faith. I’m not saying ‘no’ by any means, I’m just saying there are things about me you don’t know yet that could make you want to change your mind.”

“Well, what are they?”

“It’s not easy to say,” she said. “I told you before I’m not the angel you seem to think I am. I’m just a human being, and there is a dark past I’ve gone a long way to keep covered up. You need to know about that past before I give you an answer, so you’ll have the chance to retract your offer before I do.”

“Is this something bad?”

“It is and it isn’t,” she said. “It’s nothing illegal, I can tell you that. I don’t want to say I’m proud of it, but it was something I had to do to get where I am today, which includes sitting here next to you telling you this. But Henry, this has to remain a deep, dark secret, just between you and me. If it were to come out, it would probably wreck my career as a physician in Spearfish Lake, and might destroy it anyway, wherever I go. I have to have your promise you’ll keep it just between us, even more than you promised Cindy you wouldn’t tell anyone about the school shooting she planned.”

“This sounds bad.”

“I don’t think it’s all that bad, although some people certainly would. With what I know about you, I don’t think you would consider it that bad, especially if you could understand the whole thing about why I did what I had to do.”

“Tricia, you’re scaring me, now.”

“It’s nothing to be scared of; it’s just a truth you need to be aware of before we even get to the point of planning to get married. I just don’t know where to start telling you.” She frowned, and thought hard before she spoke again; out of nowhere an idea came to her lips before she could even consider its wisdom. “In fact, maybe it would be better if I showed you, rather than just told you. Maybe you will be able to understand the realities a little better if I do it that way. In fact, now that I think about it, maybe it’s best if I do it that way, so you don’t have any illusions about me. I just ask that you wait to hear me out all the way, so I can show you and tell you the whole story, not just parts of it.”

“Tricia, maybe it’s better if I don’t know.”

“No, it can’t be that way. Henry, this is not just something I’ve thought about since you asked me to marry you. I’ve been thinking about it for months, and I’ve come to the conclusion you need to know my secret, even if it means you change your mind about marrying me. Once again, I’ll have to ask you for your word that you’ll never reveal what I’m going to have to tell you.”

“I promise, Tricia. Even if it’s something so bad I change my mind about marrying you, I love you too much to want to ruin your life.”

“Thank you, Henry. The loyalty you showed to Cindy, even long after the limits of your promise expired, gives me faith you’ll keep your word. Understand that it means I’m taking a lot on faith with you, since showing you what I have to show you is a huge risk for me, but if I’m to marry you, I’ll have to take that risk.”

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To be continued . . .

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