On the other side of the lake, Doctor Robertson’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket. His receptionist had just gone for the day after his last appointment, so his calls had been redirected to his cell phone.
He glanced at it and saw the name. Meg. Megan Sinclair. He swore. She, of all people, was in trouble again. Why was she calling him?
It was ‘not’, an emergency.
He decided to let it ring until he’d finished with this last patient, and then he’d call her back. He muted it.
One of her many boy friends had beaten her up, likely, or it was some other personal problem. She had a long list of personal problems. Why she was calling him, he didn’t know. She didn’t like him, and he knew enough about her, never to phone her for any reason, but he didn’t have to anyway. His father was her doctor. She was trouble. She had a foul mouth on her, and mixed with the wrong crowd, so she was a magnet for trouble.
If it had been anything serious, he’d have got a call from the sheriff, first. That had happened twice before, but he also knew that he couldn’t ignore anyone reaching out directly to him like that.
His father still practiced in the surgery one day a week. He usually tried to let his father handle the more difficult, or delicate patients, including her, as his father had more sympathy and patience to listen.
Megan’s friends would put her in hospital, if they didn’t kill her first. One’s enemies were more to be trusted. At least you knew who they were, most of the time, and what they intended for you… but your friends...?
After he’d seen Greg Stewart out of the door, and had dropped his notes on the receptionist’s desk, Malcolm picked up the message. It sounded urgent. She was in tears and almost hysterical.
Doctor Robertson. I need your help. Please call back as soon as you get this message. I’m almost passing out with the pain.
He had no choice about calling her back after that message.
He sighed. So much for a pleasant afternoon off.
He phoned back, finding that it was answered almost immediately.
“Robertson, here. You tried to get me.” He tried to sound patient and professional, while hiding his frustration. He’d been looking forward to getting a break.
“Doctor Robertson?” She sounded confused at first, not hearing the voice she expected to hear.
She hesitated. “Give me Doctor Robertson, please.” She was at least, polite, for once.
“I am, Doctor Robertson. What can I help you with?”
She sounded confused.
“Doctor Robertson… of Kedgwick?”
“Hi. Yes.” He tried to be patient. His father was not available. It sounded like his father was the one she’d expected. “You’ve got me. Do you need immediate help? It sounded like you did.”
She didn’t sound inebriated, which she seemed to be most of the time, but she was still confused.
“What’s the problem?”
All he heard was a disjointed, avalanche of words from a nearly hysterical woman, clearly in pain.
She was lying along a jetty, and then… something about wasps, fishing tackle falling on her… fishhooks… couldn’t move… pain… and then hooks, again.
She said those words... pain, and hooks, several times, and she sounded like she meant it. It was reflected in her voice, which was becoming tearful; catching in her throat as she tried to explain. She might be going into shock.
It sounded serious. He had to slow her down... calm her down. He’d have to deal with this right now.
“Stop, stop, stop.” He said it in his kindest voice. She stopped.
He asked a few questions to clarify, gradually getting a more complete picture of what the problem was. She’d got some fishhooks into her. He understood that.
“How many fishhooks?”
“Not sure. A lot, maybe twenty.”
All over me, head to toe, they fell on me, digging in, and they really hurt. My hand… I can’t lift it. I got fishhooks in my fingers and in the skin on my abdomen when I tried to sweep them off. I thought I was being attacked by wasps.”
“Are they clear of your eyes?”
Good! No problem there.
How did that happen?
He didn’t ask. He’d find out soon enough. She answered the unasked question anyway.
“My grandfather’s fishing box fell onto the dock and emptied all over me.”
He thought about it for all of two seconds.
“Can you come into the hospital? Or to the surgery, here? Get someone to drive you?”
“No. There’s no one here to help me. I’m alone. I can’t move from where I am. I’ll only make things worse, and I can’t drive; not the way I am.”
Even if she had a car. She’d had her license suspended anyway, for DUI. He remembered that.
“Did you phone the ambulance?”
“No.” He heard her groan in frustration. “I don’t want anyone to see me like this, or … ” He could almost hear her grinding her teeth. He understood. It was a small town. It would be even more grist for the gossip mill.
She’d probably been sunbathing on the dock, and then this had happened. There was a lot of embarrassing stuff came into the ER... rough play, toys in awkward places on juveniles, as well as on adults who should know better. He was learning all of the annoying and kinky secrets of their little community, and who the ‘players’ were. It gave him a sense of power when he could look at people and smile at them, seeing them blush and turn away, knowing that they’d been discovered... found out.
“Okay, tell me where you are, and I’ll come and get you.”
He heard her release what could have been a sob, or a sigh of relief.
He was still not sure about her, but she needed help. As a doctor, he couldn’t refuse any plea for help, no matter who. And there had been that catch in her voice. Pain. Real pain. She was crying and close to breaking down. She’d also said, ‘thank you’.
“Where are you?” He repeated his earlier question.
“Where’s that?” He was being coolly professional now, still needing to have it spelled out.
“Sinclairs. On the east side of the lake. Blue house. Ten miles out from town. There’s a jetty going out into the lake. I’m on the jetty, stuck here. I was sunbathing and... I can’t do anything. I can’t walk. I can barely move for the pain. And I’m in a lot of pain”. (evident in her voice and general agitation, as well as her emphasis). She’d been close to swearing (anger, was better than tears, here). He could imagine her biting her lower lip. Her voice was tense, almost scared, and not as he remembered it.
She really must be in pain.
He confirmed her location, and then added his own.
“I’m on the west side, across from you.”
He picked up the binoculars and got them to focus on the far side, about a mile across the lake. He could see five of the summer houses on the other side. All of them had jetties. He knew the Sinclair house, occupied year-round, was one of those five, but he wasn’t sure which one it was. She’d said it was blue. There were two blue houses. He wouldn’t ask what shade of blue... she’d swear at him in frustration.
“Can you raise your arm and wave? I should be able to see you.”
“I think so. Why?”
“So that I can see you. I’m using binoculars to scan that shore. I see a blue house.”
He saw her almost immediately. She was just visible, waving some cloth from the end of the jetty, as she’d said.
“I see you.”
She continued waving. She hadn’t heard him. He knew the house now. One of that family had died just last week. Heart problems and booze. It had taken them too long to bring him in. They’d thought he was drunk and acting up, which he usually had done. They’d killed him with stupidity.
She got back to him. “Did you see me?” She’d been unable to talk while she’d waved.
“Yes, I can see where you are… opposite the surgery. Blue house. I’ll be there as fast as I can.” He thought about his options, and he decided.
“I’ll be ten, fifteen minutes.” A boat was the easiest way.
“Thank you. I’ll be here.” There was still a spark of dry humor there. She would be stuck there if she couldn’t move, cooking to a crisp in the sun. He’d better not drive. That would take too long, at least an hour, maybe two. She might not last that long before she lost it.
“And thanks.” At least she now knew that help was on the way.
That was twice, or maybe three times she’d thanked him. She didn’t usually thank anyone.
He’d ask the other important questions when he got there and could size her up, not sure what would greet him.
The other side of the lake was hard to get to, by road anyway, taking a long detour down into town before crossing the river on one of the two narrow bridges. It was a much shorter trip across the lake. She was in pain, and the sun was fierce. The motorboat was out of the water, being worked on, so that was ‘out’, but he had his sea-kayak. Maybe he would get out after all.
After he’d seen to her, he’d be gone in one direction or the other for the rest of the day, so he’d dress for that. He still might have to get her to the hospital.
For her part, Cassie felt relieved. Help was on the way. She must have got Doc Robertson’s son.
Oh lord. How would she handle this? She knew him, and he knew her… sort of.
Of all the things to happen to her…
There was one consolation. He didn’t know her by sight.
Let him think she was Megan. She’d deal with correcting that when they met properly, and in a better setting, later, when she could become Cassie again, and could deny any and all of this.
She’d heard that Malcolm was practicing medicine in town. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers. She should have asked to speak to his mother first, for moral support. She would have known what to do.
Cassie had never actually met their son, face to face as she’d wanted to, though she’d stayed many times, overnight at their house for weeks and even months, stretching to years, when her own family had become impossible.
Malcolm had rarely been home after the first few weeks, and so they’d never had chance to actually meet, to be introduced. His mother had seen to that, keeping them well away from each other. She knew her son, and she’d known about her.
She still remembered that first night, when her life had changed for the better. She’d become so desperate, she’d swum across the lake in the dark, to escape her tormenting sister and her impossible boyfriends, who’d had bad intentions, sexual intentions, for both of the Sinclair girls. She’d been thirteen. Escaping that, and them, had been the best decision she’d ever made.
Mrs. Robertson, her teacher, had said very little when she’d heard her tap at her door, wet and shivering, as well as scared. She’d taken one look at her and had welcomed her and taken her in, getting her showered, dry, warm, into a pair of her son’s older pyjamas, and into a warm bed.
She’d stayed there after that, never going back home again. Her own family didn’t even miss her. One less mouth to feed.
Malcolm, Mrs. Robertson’s son, had been finishing high school, studying for exams, and also had been working various jobs, so he was never home very much to know anything, and then, a few months after that, he’d gone to university, quite far away. Their paths had crossed very rarely after that, which suited his mother.
They’d lived in two completely separate, and different worlds, in the same house.
She’d often seen him sleeping in his own room, sprawled out across his bed as she’d gone to school the following morning, but they’d never physically met, no matter how long she stayed there.
He was five years older than she was, so he’d never have, ‘seen’ her, anyway unless he’d tripped over her. Boys only saw older girls. Except… they, had… become aware of each other, and in interesting ways that had only become more interesting with time. They had been an ingenious pair, gradually working around, behind, his mother, but even so, they’d never met.
Now, she was twenty-three, so he must be twenty-seven, or twenty-eight.
While she waited for him to get to her, she picked up the scraps of bikini again and tried to lay them over her where they would hide the most critical parts of her anatomy. Fat chance of them hiding anything! What would he think of her? It was mortifying.
She’d have to put up with the embarrassment. She screamed internally. There was not a damned thing she could do about it, now. Not only that, but she’d got the other doctor Robertson, his son, Malcolm. She’d get to meet him face to face at last… except in an even more embarrassing way, and not in the gentle, formal way that she’d anticipated and looked forward to.
“What would he say? Would he recognize her?” Unlikely.
She’d die of shame, if not, of embarrassment. She should never have come back for the funeral.
Her phone went again. It was her sister, Meg, no doubt wondering if Cassie had found her phone on the sideboard, and where was she?
She ignored it. This, was more important than having to deal with her crazy sister.