LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART
Kerry smoothed down the skirt of her dark green suit, straightened the narrow gold chain on her neck and ran her fingers through her collar-length, dusky blond hair. Her entire afternoon had been a mad rush, leaving the courthouse at two-thirty, picking up Robin at school, driving from Hohokus through the heavy traffic of Routes 17 and 4, then over the George Washington Bridge to Manhattan, finally parking the car and arriving at the doctor's office just in time for Robin's four o'clock appointment.
Now, after all the rush, Kerry could only sit and wait to be summoned into the examining room, wishing that she'd been allowed to be with Robin while the stitches were removed. But the nurse had been adamant. "During a procedure, Dr. Smith will not permit anyone except the nurse in the room with a patient."
"But she's only ten!" Kerry had protested, then had closed her lips and reminded herself that she should be grateful that Dr. Smith was the one who had been called in after the accident. The nurses at St. Luke's-Roosevelt had assured her that he was a wonderful plastic surgeon. The emergency room doctor had even called him a miracle worker.
Reflecting back on that day, a week ago, Kerry realized she still hadn't recovered from the shock of that phone call. She'd been working late in her office at the courthouse in Hackensack, preparing for the murder case she would be prosecuting, taking advantage of the fact that Robin's father, her ex-husband, Bob Kinellen, had unexpectedly invited Robin to see New York City's Big Apple Circus, followed by dinner.
At six-thirty her phone had rung. It was Bob. There had been an accident. A van had rammed into his Jaguar while he was pulling out of the parking garage. Robin's face had been cut by flying glass. She'd been rushed to St. Luke's-Roosevelt, and a plastic surgeon had been called. Otherwise she seemed fine, although she was being examined for internal injuries.
Remembering that terrible evening, Kerry shook her head. She tried to push out of her mind the agony of the hurried drive into New York, dry sobs shaking her body, her lips forming only one word, "please," her mind racing with the rest of the prayer, Please God, don't let her die, she's all I have. Please, she's just a baby. Don't take her from me...
Robin was already in surgery when Kerry had arrived at the hospital, so she had sat in the waiting room, Bob next to her -- with him but not with him. He had a wife and two other children now. Kerry could still feel the overwhelming sensation of relief she had experienced when Dr. Smith had finally appeared, and in a formal and oddly condescending manner had said, "Fortunately the lacerations did not deeply penetrate the dermis. Robin will not be scarred. I want to see her in my office in one week."
The cuts proved to be her only injuries, and Robin had bounced back from the accident, missing only two days of school. She had seemed to be somewhat proud of her bandages. It was only today, on their way into New York for the appointment, that she'd sounded frightened when she asked, "I will be okay, won't I, Mom? I mean my face won't be all messed up?"
With her wide blue eyes, oval face, high forehead and sculpted features, Robin was a beautiful child and the image of her father. Kerry had reassured her with a heartiness she hoped was truthful. Now, to distract herself, Kerry looked around the waiting room. It was tastefully furnished with several couches and chairs covered in a small floral print design. The lights were soft, the carpeting luxurious.
A woman who appeared to be in her early forties, wearing a bandage across her nose, was among those waiting to be called inside. Another, who looked somewhat anxious, was confiding to her attractive companion: "Now that I'm here, I'm glad you made me come. You look fabulous."
She does, Kerry thought as she self-consciously reached into her bag for her compact. Snapping it open, she examined herself in the mirror, deciding that today she looked every minute of her thirty-six years. She was aware that many people found her attractive, but still she remained self-conscious about her looks. She brushed the powder puff over the bridge of her nose, trying to cover the spray of detested freckles, studied her eyes and decided that whenever she was tired, as she was today, their hazel color changed from green to muddy brown. She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, then with a sigh closed the compact and smoothed back the half bang that needed trimming.
Anxiously she fastened her gaze on the door that led to the examining rooms. Why was it taking so long to remove Robin's stitches? she wondered. Could there be complications?
A moment later the door opened. Kerry looked up expectantly. Instead of Robin, however, there emerged a young woman who seemed to be in her mid-twenties, a cloud of dark hair framing the petulant beauty of her face.
I wonder if she always looked like that, Kerry mused, as she studied the high cheekbones, straight nose, exquisitely shaped pouty lips, luminous eyes, arched brows.
Perhaps sensing her gaze, the young woman looked quizzically at Kerry as she passed her.
Kerry's throat tightened. I know you, she thought. But from where? She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. That face -- I've seen her before.
Once the woman had left, Kerry went over to the receptionist and explained that she thought she might know the lady who just came out of the doctor's office. Who was she?
The name Barbara Tompkins, however, meant nothing to her. She must have been mistaken. Still, when she sat down again, an overwhelming sense of déjà vu filled her mind. The effect was so chilling, she actually shivered.
Copyright © 1995 by Mary Higgins Clark