Read One We Love, The Online

Authors: Donna White Glaser

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense

One We Love, The

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ONE WE LOVE

Donna White Glaser

 

 

 

Following the sudden death of a co-worker, psychotherapist Letty
Whittaker learns she has “inherited” her colleague’s case load. As professional
executor, Letty assumes responsibility for Regina’s clients, including those
from Devlin House, the local domestic abuse shelter where Regina had
worked  . . . and died. 

 

As Letty takes up her duties, she makes some disturbing
discoveries: a set of files that Regina had stolen from the shelter; an AWOL
resident, missing since the morning after Regina’s death; an ethics complaint
Regina had made against an unnamed peer. Are the files—or the abused women they
represented—connected with Regina’s death? Is the missing client on the run
from her abusive husband or somebody even scarier? Who was Regina reporting to
the state licensing board, and why?

 

And,
more importantly, just what kind of trouble has Letty
really
inherited?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also By Donna White Glaser

 

 

THE
ENEMY WE KNOW

 

THE
SECRETS WE KEEP

 

THE
BLOOD WE SPILL

 

Coming Soon:

THE LIES WE TELL

 

 

 

 

 

I’d love to hear from you! Please sign up for my New Release
mailing list or contact me via my website at
http://www.donnawhiteglaser.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Levi and Leah

my pride and joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP TWO

 

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could
restore us to sanity

 

 

 

STEP THREE

 

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the
care of God
as we understood Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

I
felt bad about
not liking Regina more, especially after she died. Of course, I don’t think
Regina liked me much either, despite that she’d saved my life. Maybe liking
isn’t the point.

It would have come in handy at her funeral, though.

Surrounded by most of my co-workers, I sat on a folding
chair covered in faded burgundy, trying to come up with topics for
conversation. I needn’t have bothered. My colleagues left me in a cone of
respectful silence, shooting sympathetic looks whenever our eyes met. Mostly I
concentrated on facing forward. If I blurred my eyes like when looking at those
3D pictures where a unicorn materializes out of a psychedelic swirl, I could almost
believe it wasn’t a casket placed center stage with burgundy velvet theater
curtains bracketing it.

Except for two wilting ferns provided by the funeral home,
there weren’t any flowers either, which I’d always found to be a nice
distraction at funerals. A person could examine each bouquet, stick her nose in
the blossoms for a good sniff, discuss how pretty they all were and which
flowers were the favorite of the deceased. Maybe even (silently) compare the
estimated cost of the other arrangements to one’s own.

Ignore the dead body in the middle of the room, Letty.

Instead, somebody had arranged for “in lieu of” donations,
which, while imminently charitable, did not lend themselves to small talk.

I wanted to get up, move around. Oh hell, what I really
wanted was to sneak outside for a smoke. I reminded myself I was trying to
quit. Besides, at any moment, the minister was going to come forward to ask for
the personal anecdotes of the deceased that made everyone smile and nod in fond
remembrance. My armpits grew damp, my stomach doing lazy flips in anticipation.

Months ago in the wake of some horrible events in my life,
Regina had really come through for me, had forced me out of the bleak dead-zone
of depression and back into real life. By rights, I should have loved her for
it. Because of it, my colleagues assumed a relationship between us that didn’t
exist, and naturally expected some folksy, heart-warming Regina stories. Not
that they had any of their own.

I guessed I could chat about the choke holds and knife
attacks that she’d forced me to escape from or the multiple times she thrashed
my butt, teaching me self-defense skills. Although upon consideration, it was
probably better not to mention the worrisome little smile that twinkled across
her face during the attacks; that didn’t seem like funeral fodder. I guessed
that also ruled out showing off the yellow-green bruise that still lingered on
my ass from the last training session a little more than a week ago.

Or, keeping it light, I could tell about the time Regina
took over two racks of the employee lounge fridge so she could slide in her own
personal lockbox to secure her imported salad dressing and designer water from
those of us who consistently forgot to bring a sack lunch. Regina wasn’t what
you would call a “sharer.” 

Unless you counted the thousands of hours of time, energy
and expertise she’d donated to the women and children at our community domestic
abuse shelter. Or the similar intensity she displayed in saving me from myself
after the previously mentioned horrible events.

Now I felt really bad. Again.  

Bob, acting supervisor and reigning toad of the clinic we
all worked at, plopped down beside me. He was actively losing his own battle
with sweaty pit issues, and it showed. Or, more accurately, smelled. I tried
blurring my nose, but unlike my eyes, it didn’t take.

“Hey, Letty. You’d think they’d have the air on in here,” he
said, mopping his head with a hankie. Unfortunately, the action misaligned the
strands of hair he’d pasted across his balding dome and he had to spend a few
minutes patting them back into submission, which further served to fan his eau
de la pit-smell. “You’re gonna say something, right? For the eulogy?”

“I thought
you
would. I mean, you and she were—”

“Nah, I better not. I don’t want to seem like I’m playing
favorites. If I compliment one employee, then everyone else gets PO’d. I don’t need
the hassle.”

As a psychotherapist, I knew how to keep my emotions in
check, but my training occasionally fails in the face of abject stupidity. This
occurred whenever I talked with Bob.

“Bob, I really don’t think anyone is going to mind if you
say some nice things about Regina at her funeral.
Besides, you and she
have been friends for a very long—”

He interrupted. Again. “You start it out. I’m sure you’ve
got some good things to say.” He gave me a “boss” look underscoring the non-voluntary
qualities of his suggestion, then heaved himself to his feet and walked toward
the funeral director.

As I glared at his retreating backside, I noticed several
more people entering. All women. All with that no-makeup, Amazonian-professional
look that secretly intimidated me. As far as I’m concerned, women willing to
bare unadorned faces to the world have big juju.

I recognized three of them from the shelter where Regina had
volunteered. The shelter that she’d dragged me to after . . . well . . .
after.
I shook myself.

A rustling sound distracted me and I swiveled back to face
front as the funeral director—a chubby little cherub—minced up the aisle to the
speaking podium. At least I wouldn’t have to witness some meek clergyman trying
to pronounce Regina’s name correctly. Regina always insisted it rhyme with her
girl parts, rather than the traditional usage. And if she were alive now, she’d
have slapped me for saying “girl parts.”

The cherub stood in front, clearing his throat and cloaking
his face in decorous restraint. I waited for his assistants to perform the
discreet, behind the curtains closing of the casket, but none appeared. The cherub
greeted us smoothly, then read a brief eulogy comprised of dry, isolated facts,
taken straight from the newspaper obituary. At least he got her name right and
he didn’t blush when pronouncing it.

Still no sign of assistant cherubs coming to shut the casket.

Moments later, he opened the floor to Regina’s loved ones
and extended his hand to the first speaker.

Me.
Damn you, Bob.

Mouth dry and legs shaking, I made my way to the podium. I
hoped that people would assume I was overwrought with grief, or even just
afraid of public speaking, instead of the truth: I had no idea what to say
about Regina; all made worse by the fact that Regina lay directly behind me, casket
open to the world. The skin on the back of my neck crawled. I felt like she was
going to grade me on my performance. Or leap on the back of my neck like the
undead.

The cherub had left a pitcher of water and a small stack of
Dixie cups on a stand next to the podium. I stalled, pouring a drink. The water
danced in the tiny cup like I had palsy.

“Regina,” I began, “was an amazing woman. I hardly know
where to begin.”
All true, so far. Doin’ good.
“She was a skilled and
dedicated therapist, a stalwart defender of women and women’s rights, and . . .
a good friend.”
As long as we disregard the “not liking each other” part.
“Regina
taught me so much. So, so much. . .um—”
What? What did she teach me?
“She taught me about how to be a strong woman in a very scary world, how to
walk with pride and courage. How to trust my instincts.”

 I was starting to surprise myself. I looked out over the assemblage
and saw the nearly all-female crowd nodding. Bob, sitting near the front, was rubbing
his nose surreptitiously. I closed my eyes to avoid viewing the actual
booger-picking moment.

 “How to fight back and refuse to be a victim.”
How to
kick a man so hard he’d sneeze out nuts.

My eyes flew open in sudden panic, scanning the upturned
faces to see if I’d actually said that last bit out loud. I rubbed the nicotine
patch on my shoulder hoping to activate a rush of chemicals. Bob, booger free,
looked bored, and Clotilde, the shelter’s dominatrix. . . er, director, showed
neither shock nor, as would be more likely, amusement.

I recognized the woman next to Clotilde. Astrid had once co-led
the group counseling sessions that Regina had dragged me to. She leaned toward Clotilde,
whispering in her ear. Clotilde, never taking her eyes off me, nodded once. Since
it didn’t seem to pertain to sneezing nuts, I tried to move on.

More water. Then, “I’ll miss Regina.”
Surprisingly
enough, also true.

I sat down, tuning out the next few speakers, and waited for
my heart to quit its wild thumping as the realization of just how true my last
statement had been.

I was going to miss Regina-rhymes-with-vagina very much.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

 

A
fter the
service, I attempted to escape without talking to anyone. Before I made it to
the door, however, a slightly older, decidedly sleeker version of Regina caught
up with me and grasped my hand. She wore her hair in a fashionable bob, letting
it curl around her chin, giving a look of sweetness to an otherwise too narrow
face. She had Regina’s light blue eyes, but makeup softened and gentled the
effect. I wasn’t surprised when she introduced herself as Regina’s sister,
Emma.

“I just had to thank you,” she said. “You seemed to know Reggie
so well. I wanted to tell you how much your words meant to me. Everybody else
seemed so. . .” Her voice trailed off, avoiding actual criticism. “I hope
people aren’t upset because we didn’t have a pastor. Reggie had it all planned
out. She always had intense beliefs; I imagine she didn’t want to trust it to
anyone else. She didn’t want anything to do with a religious service, of
course, but frankly I don’t know what message we were supposed to get from the
casket remaining open the whole time.”

“Maybe just a reminder?” I fumbled. Reminder of what, I
didn’t know, but I, for one, wasn’t ever going to forget.

Without letting go of my hand, Emma began walking toward the
front. Until now, I’d managed to avoid the whole “doesn’t she look peaceful?”
moment that required staring down at the dead person and commenting on her
appearance. For a nanosecond, my legs locked up, attempting to transform into
reality the cliché of digging my heels in. Just as quickly, I realized that resistance
was futile. Emma was a sweeter version, perhaps, but there was more than just a
physical resemblance between the sisters. I might leave drag marks in the thick
carpet, but I
was
joining her casket-side.

Regina didn’t appear peaceful, which would have been a weird
look on her anyway. Whoever had done her up must not have gotten a demo-picture
because they’d slathered her face with dramatic makeup and twisted a bright
jewel-toned scarf around her neck. The heavy layer of foundation was too dark,
making it look like the normally pale Regina had abused a tanning bed right
before she’d died. A slash of rouge across her cheekbones only added to the
unreality of her death.

She looked so very different that my eyes skittered away as
if caught staring at a stranger. They landed on her charm bracelet. I smiled.
I’d gotten plenty of close- ups of that trinket when Regina had her hands wrapped
around my throat. It would jingle as she demonstrated how to twist an attacker’s
thumbs to leverage them off my neck. She’d talk matter-of-factly about maiming
and blinding and paralyzing with the charms tinkling merrily in counterpoint to
her movements.

“I wonder where they got the scarf,” Emma remarked. “I don’t
believe I’ve ever seen Reggie wear one before. She wasn’t all that into style.”
Emma smiled down at her own chic outfit.

“No, she wasn’t,” I agreed. I would never in a million years
have pictured Regina choosing this scarf, beautiful as it was. It didn’t even
particularly match her more familiar navy pants suit.

“I guess they needed to cover the wound,” Emma continued. “I
didn’t even know she knitted.”

“I’m sorry? A wound? I thought Regina fell. They told us
she’d fallen down a set of stairs at the women’s shelter.”

“She did, but from what I understand that’s not what killed
her. It might have if she hadn’t been able to get help, but what really killed
her was the needle.”

“A needle?” I felt like a parrot, but none of this made any
sense. “A
knitting
needle?”

“Yeah, that’s strange, huh? I never knew she knitted,” Emma
said again.

I looked down at Regina’s still form. “Neither did I.”

“It just seems like such a strange thing to happen. Of course,
when they told me they were doing an autopsy I thought it meant. . .

“Anyway, they assured me that it’s a requirement in all
accidental deaths.”

“Wow, I didn’t realize . . .  Do they think—”

“Letty?” Bob approached, startling me. He stood slightly off
to the side, indicating with a “c’mere” head tilt that he wanted to speak to
me. I excused myself from Emma.

Bob said, “I need to meet with you later. Can you come by
the clinic when you’re done here?

“Um, sure. Are you heading to the cemetery?” I asked.

“Nah, something’s come up and I need to take care of it. If
you’re going to pay respects, that’s fine. Just stop by the office afterward.” Bob
said.

He nodded to Emma. “My condolences.” Then hurried off.

I turned to Emma. “I’d better go, too. It was nice meeting
you.”

She nodded distractedly, then looked deep into my eyes. I
waited, assuming she had more to say. Instead, she smiled faintly and turned
back to her sister.

 

I
t felt strange
meeting Bob in our former boss’s office. Bob had never liked Marshall, but I .
. .  I certainly couldn’t say the same. I hadn’t heard from Marshall since he’d
left for Wyoming, and my heart twisted at the sight of Bob sitting in
Marshall’s old leather chair.

“So, okay, Letty. Here’s the thing. Regina left you some
instructions. Her lawyer called me this morning before the service. Called me at
home
.” He stressed the intrusion, implying that it was my fault. “She
had Regina’s will, and she faxed it over here.”

“Her will? What do I have to do with Regina’s will?”

“Not her will exactly.” Bob sounded irritated that I’d
assumed his use of the word “will” meant. . . well. . .a
will
.
Apparently, I should have known better.

He snatched a sheaf of papers from a tilting column on the
desk. “Her ‘Professional Executor Instructions.’ Her lawyer, gal by the name of
Perkins, said Regina was supposed to have given me a copy, but I never saw it. You
need to give her a call.” He tossed the papers across the desk to me.

I left them lying between us, seemingly harmless, but I’d
been fooled before. The A/C kicked on and the papers fluttered gently. I
shivered.

“What the hell is a professional executor anyway?” I asked.

Bob shrugged. “Like, you know, the person who’s got to cross
all the I’s and dot all the T’s. Contact her clients, review her files, maybe
do a little grief counseling. Like that.” He pointed to the papers again. “Her
client list is in there, too.”

“Well, of course,
somebody’s
got to do that.” With
the unexpectedness of Regina’s death, I hadn’t really thought about it, but it seemed
obvious now. Regina’s clients, many of them anyway, would need help processing
her sudden demise. “I guess I figured we would all pitch in.”

“Oh, sure, absolutely.” Bob acted as if he’d already thought
the process through. Maybe he had. “But with this,” he gestured to the papers, “and
a lawyer involved, we’ll need to honor Regina’s wishes.” Not to mention that
dumping it all on me took Bob off the hook.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Haven’t her clients already been
notified?”

 The clinic had been closed for two days, ever since we’d
heard about Regina’s accident. All clients, aside from a very few emergency
calls that each of us dealt with accordingly, had been rescheduled for next
week.

“Not officially notified,” Bob said. “We canceled Regina’s
appointments, but without an explanation. I was waiting to hear from Admin how
they wanted us to handle the situation.”

Bob loved the perks of the director position; he liked his
big office, he liked the respect he assumed he had, and he liked choosing his
own hours, which always seemed to combine coming in late with leaving early and
allegedly toiling diligently at home under onerous conditions.

 But the responsibilities and, worse, the accountability?
Not so much. He didn’t make any decision without prior approval lest
someone—anyone—try to assign blame for any mishap. He didn’t venture new ideas
and he didn’t claim old ones until they’d been proven successful.

Come to think of it, he had more administrative skills than
I’d been crediting him with.

A wistful yearning made me ask, “Has anyone called
Marshall?”

Bob shrugged. “Why would they? I mean, he’s not going to
come from Wyoming for a funeral of a former colleague. They didn’t even get
along. It’s the clients we have to focus on.”

“What about
my
clients?” I asked. Yes, I admit to a slight
whiny quality in the question.

“You’ll have to go through them and prioritize. Transfer as
many as you safely can to the other therapists for a couple of weeks, and see
the ones yourself who might be too fragile to shift over. Go through your
client roster this afternoon and get me a list ASAP. But the big thing is going
to be reviewing Regina’s current client files and contacting each of them. Give
referrals to the ones you think need to continue seeing someone and work out
some kind of grief sessions for those who need it. You may need to go into her
back files and review those clients, too, but obviously the priority is gonna
be her current people. Read that,” he said, pointing again to the papers, “and
call Ms. Perkins so she knows we’re on top of things.”

I finally picked up the papers. “Professional Executor
Instructions,” it said across the top. “For the Disposition of the Practice of
Regina L. Wentzler, Psy. D. In the Event of Death, Disappearance, or
Disability.”

Ugh.

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