Dan’s voice broke the silence in the little hotel room. It had only taken a minute or two to find the girl-turned-woman this time. He had traveled to a dingy, run-down motel in some town he didn’t recognize. A simple lie, a simple look at the motel’s sign-in book. A simple matter of a credit card and the bobby pin he always carried in his wallet now.
Livia would be proud of him, bending the rules like this.
“Daniel.” Hannah gave him a half-smile, sitting at the hotel-room desk, her head pillowed on her arms. Dan moved to sit gingerly on the edge of the desk, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her hair. That would be too familiar. He didn’t know her that well and she was almost as old as he was besides.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me.”
Hannah shrugged without sitting up. “Probably because I’m not.”
“You told me you were watching over me. Us.” She shrugged one shoulder again, tracing her finger through the intricate network of varicolored pills laid out on the desk. Three or four empty bottles lay on the floor, wine and medication alike. “I kinda suspected you’d be here sooner or later.”
How come you always show up every time my life goes to hell? Jeremy’s words skated over his mind.
It would be nice, for once, to arrive at a happy point in someone else’s life. Just once.
Dan sighed, scrubbing his hands down his face, but not – like he truly wanted – reaching out to dash the pills away. Not yet.
“Hannah. You’re a doctor, remember? You help people? Kids?” Dan spouted everything he remembered from the articles he’d found and from what Theresa had told him; waved his hand around the sparse hotel, the rainbow of medications, his eyes questioning. “What happened? Why are you here?”
Hannah laughed, rubbing her eyes. She looked older than almost-thirty-two, somehow, when she straightened up.
“I did have a good thing goin’, didn’t I?” She sighed, wistfully, leaning over the chair so her curly brown hair cascaded over the back rest, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. “I liked it. People liked me…” Her face went stormy, haunted. “At least, I thought they did…” She carded her hands through her curls.
“You…you remember what happened with Jerry, right? With the kids…finding out who he was?” She sat up, tapped her fingers against the table, drumming against the pitted wood. “Or who Dad was?”
“Yes, of course.” Mostly because for me it only happened yesterday. His shoulder panged at the thought, and he reached up to rub the bandage, only to pause when his fingers met stitches and skin instead. …right. His fingers flinched away from the tender flesh as he kept his eyes on Hannah.
“Well, it happened with me.” Hannah bent over, reached out to pick up a newspaper on the floor. The motion sent bottles clanking together on the musty carpet. She flipped the newspaper over so Dan could see the front page. The bottom held a story with a large, accusatory headline: Local shrink – bad blood?
“Apparently, practicing psychiatrists can’t have skeletons like that in the closet. Not in this town.”
Dan carefully extricated the paper from her fingers, glancing at the date. September 5, 2000.
He shrugged again, trying not to appear too cavalier. “Alright, so they found out. So what? What’s that mean for you?”
“No one will return my calls. I have-” She paused, laughed, another cynical sound, “had twenty regular patients at the clinic. None of ‘em came in for their appointments this week; none of their parents even made a courtesy call. I mean, I’m not… I can’t say I entirely blame them, but…” She waved her hand, indicating the room. “If I don’t have that, if I don’t have people to help… I don’t…don’t have anything.”
Dan tried to imagine what it would be like if his coworkers or neighbors turned on him. The thought wasn’t exactly pleasant. He let her keep talking.
“I’ve been working in this town for five years, you’d think…you’d think they’d know me by now.” She laughed again. It wasn’t any happier than the last time she looked. “Instead, I get threatening phone calls and dirty looks and bricks through my window.”
He could hear the pain in her voice; hear the betrayal as she saw, first hand, what her brother had gone through almost ten years ago. He finally reached out, rested his hand on her head. She lifted her eyes to meet his, and he felt a small smile playing around his lips.
“This doesn’t have to be you.” He said, lightly. “It doesn’t….
“…ever have to be you,” she finished, looking away with another scowl. But scowling showed an emotion other than dejection, and that was a start. Dan tried to keep his voice light.
“I’m serious! I was serious back then, and I’m serious now. You believed me then, or you never would have used my dumb lines on your kid brother. You’re smart, you know what you’re doing and…you’re going to let these people make that decision for you?” He let the disbelief he was feeling creep into his voice. “Let them decide who you are and what you can do? Honestly, I thought you were smarter than that. You could help change so many lives for the better…”
Hannah snorted, the sound inelegant, but at least it held a tone of genuine amusement. Dan elbowed her in the ribs, gently. She didn’t look at him.
“C’mon. Have I ever led you astray before?”
It was a risky card to play, but he flipped it anyways, hoping it’d have the desired effect. She met his gaze then, bottom lip between her teeth. The familiar gesture made her look like a scared five year old again.
“No,” she finally said, almost reluctantly.
“So trust me now. I guarantee you. They’ll find something else to worry about.”
She kept her stare steady, testing his expression for any indication that he was lying. He kept the innocent look, though he could feel some of the pain from his injuries starting to seep through.
It felt like a long time before she finally nodded, sharply, the decision made, the die cast.
“Let me take a look at your arm.”
He let her bandage him back up and, in exchange, she let him flush the pills; let him drive her home.
“Have you…you haven’t heard from Jerry lately, have you?” He finally asked after they reached her apartment on the outskirts of the same town as the hotel. It was small place, but neatly kept, with a homey sort of feel. A grey cat insinuated itself between his ankles when he stepped through the door, meowing, and Hannah scooped it up, draped it over her shoulder as she shook her head.
“He didn’t ever really forgive me for tackling him.” She paused, waving her hand at a framed photograph of her and Jerry, probably a year or two before the attack at the school. “Looking at it from his point of view, I can’t say I blame him. As far as he was concerned, I destroyed his best chance to ‘fight his own battles’ as he put it. He sent me one letter. It basically cursed me out for Dad paying more attention to me than he did to Jerry.”
“You saved my life that day, you know.”
Hannah rubbed the cat under its chin. Dan could hear its rusty purring from where he stood. “I know.”
It was almost peaceful here. There was no one shooting, no one shouting, no one looming with sharpened knives. Dan sat down on the couch, looking around the apartment again. There were bookshelves and a television, magazines on the coffee table – there were an equal number of trade journals and old issues of National Geographic.
There’s too much potential here.
“Look, about the people here…Even if they don’t forgive and forget,” Dan said, “it doesn’t mean everything’s over. Have you ever thought about joining a charity or something? Doctors Without Borders, the Peace Corp…they’re always looking for good workers, and I don’t think they’d be all that worried about who your dad was…”
Hannah looked back at him, the wheels in her head clearly turning. Her cat nudged her cheek with its nose, and she pushed it away gently.
“I mean,” Dan continued, “yeah, sure, the pay is crap, but…”
“I didn’t become a shrink to get paid well, Dan.”
“Sure you didn’t,” Dan teased. The look she shot him reminded him of the girl who had tackled Jerry more than it reminded him of the woman sitting with the pills. He knew which he definitely preferred.
“No,” he added, more seriously. “I know.” He looked back at the magazines, feeling the ache building again. “Just…if you decide to go that route- the Peace Corp or whatever- if it’s at all possible, try to get back to California by May 2008.”
Hannah cocked her head. “Why?”
It might be important? Dan thought, but outwardly he just grinned.
“Because it’d be cool to meet you in my present for once, I think. I want you to meet my kid, since I told you about him.”
It took a minute or two, but eventually Hannah returned his smile. “I’d like that, I think.”
The breeze felt strange, stilted, when reality reasserted itself.
Dan blinked, trying to refocus, and when he did the reason became clear.
He was standing in the middle of the Compound’s living room. The big windows that the F.B.I. had come through were broken, lying in shards and chunks all over the stone floor, covered in a layer of dust and dead plants.
Dan’s hand closed around the cell phone, but his fingers fumbled before he could dial the number. A shadowed looked over his shoulder. He started to turn, and the shadow’s owner hit him like a brick wall.