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Authors: Patricia M. Clark

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Worse Than Being Alone

BOOK: Worse Than Being Alone
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Worse Than Being Alone

a novel by

Patricia M. Clark

 

Worse Than Being Alone

Copyright © 2012 by Patricia M. Clark

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the
rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the
prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the
publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various
products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used
without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

 

Edition 3 – June 2014

 

Prelude

Every writer knows there is some truth in works
touted as fiction and some fiction in each purportedly true story.
Real life experiences and characters seep into our stories because
truth is stranger, and sometimes more compelling, than fiction.
Then there are all those supposedly factual accounts of abuse
survival or overcoming addiction eventually debunked once the facts
are carefully scrutinized.

One of my best friends pitched this idea for a novel
to me. It is based on an experience she is living through that she
believes is true with her whole heart and soul. My friend is
estranged from her father; she is convinced he is the victim of a
con perpetrated by a woman and her children whose goal is to steal
his money. I don’t know if this is true. Sometimes people are too
close to a situation and the perceived rejection is too
heartbreaking to maintain any kind of objectivity.

Now we have the heart of a story that may or may not
be true. Everything else will contain snippets of truth woven into
whole sections of complete fabrication. At the outset, I will give
the main characters back-stories along with a certain amount of
baggage and angst. Why should they escape that grim reality any
more than the rest of us?

This is where it always gets tricky. Like our real
children, sooner or later, the characters develop minds of their
own. They begin to say and do things totally unplanned. Eventually,
I lose control of them. Consequently, this plot is not really set
in stone; that is the magic that happens during the writing
process. I am merely their voice, documenting what they feel
compelled to do and say. So, let us begin and see where it takes
us.

Chapter One

I don’t remember ever being alone for the first
eighteen years of my life. Shared bedrooms, a bath and a half, and
limited common space virtually guaranteed there would be no
reprieve from the prying eyes of my parents and nine siblings. That
probably accounts for my long-held belief that the worst thing that
could happen to a person was being alone. Now I know I was
wrong.

My name is Kitty Talty. Roni Edelin and I are the
main characters in this saga. We flipped for who would assume the
role of narrator and I won; at least I think I won. I think it’s
entirely appropriate because I have more angst than Roni. That
means I’m more interesting, right?

I met Roni in high school when my parents abandoned
life in St. Louis and moved their brood to the rural confines of
Hillsboro, Missouri. I’m not sure I ever got over the move.
Frankly, I’m a city girl and I don’t get the country. I can
understand living near the ocean or having a mountain range to look
at, but honestly, trees and cows just don’t do it for me.

I found rednecks and pick-up trucks kind of
disturbing, which probably accounts for the fact I frantically
latched onto Roni and her earthy charm like a lifeline the first
day of class our freshman year. We quickly became inseparable and I
still proudly call her my best friend.

Roni and I left Hillsboro to attend college in St.
Louis. Armed with Bachelor of Sciences in Nursing, we returned to
Hillsboro. Roni married Harley Edelin three weeks after graduation.
I married a church deacon, James Talty, a few years later.

For fifteen years, my work involved some aspect of
acute care medicine. I didn’t even mind the daily commute to a
Level One Trauma Center in St. Louis. Intensive care, the emergency
room, and the burn unit were favorite haunts. (Some nurses are
addicted to that adrenaline rush every bit as much as cops are to a
good chase or a confrontation.) Mostly, I allowed the tense and
exhausting drama in the workplace to provide enough of a
distraction so that I could continue to ignore how unhappy I was
being married to James.

Roni is an orthopedic nurse to the core. She stayed
closer to home, managing the rehabilitation unit of a local
hospital. Eventually, we tired of hospital-based nursing. Too many
12 hour shifts and the endless mandatory holiday work took their
toll. Roni wanted to spend more time with her family; I mistakenly
thought the change would make my life better. For a few years, we
toiled as case managers for an insurance company specializing in
the area of workers’ compensation.

Three years ago, I suddenly abandoned my life in
Hillsboro and fled to Alaska. I’m sure everyone thought I had lost
my mind and maybe they were right. During my great escape, I got
divorced. I came back to St. Louis after Roni convinced me we
should open our own case management/investigative company.

Workers’ compensation case management is a strange
arena to work in, especially for a nurse. Aside from the drug
seekers and the obviously deranged, I had never questioned a
patient’s veracity. Suddenly, most of the files I was assigned were
injured workers who had an agenda that didn’t seem to involve
getting better.

A certain percentage of clients are outright faking;
some have injuries that are real enough but didn’t happen at work.
Then there are those who are legitimately injured at work but
somewhere along the way, usually early in the process, decide to
string out their treatment as long as possible. Just to keep you
honest, there are clients with catastrophic injuries such as burns,
paraplegia or quadriplegia or horrible fractures. Those cases
involve case management in its purest form where the objective is
seeking the best treatment and the best doctors to maximize
recovery.

The comp landscape is littered with fraud, waste,
and smarmy lawyers whose goal is to keep their clients off work,
and run up medical bills to increase the settlements so they can
collect their 30 percent. We chase those suspected of cheating the
system. Our hope is to build up the investigative side of our
agency to the point where the only case management files we will
accept are the catastrophic ones.

Roni’s story began on a beautiful April morning.
Despite my big picture feelings, there’s really nothing like spring
in the Midwest: tulips and daffodils springing up everywhere along
with flowering bushes and trees adding to an ambiance of renewal.
This is the time of year I always felt the need to get my hands in
the dirt and plant something. Too bad I have lost the urge to take
care of the vegetation by July. Every year, I’m victimized by my
family’s pool of recessive farmer genes.

I had just left my West End loft in St. Louis and
was happily cruising along in my bright red Cabriolet convertible,
headed for the South County office of Dr. Heidi Mirren, orthopedic
surgeon. Impulsively, I called Roni to firm up our plans for later
in the day.


Hey, Harley, it’s Kitty,” I said
after I recognized his voice. “Go tell Roni to stop milking the cow
so she can come in and talk to me on the phone.”


We don’t have any
cows.”


You live in the country, Harley.
All I see when I go to the country are cows and trees. Do you have
any idea how boring cows are?”


I guess I never really thought
about it,” he said. “I like trees and cows and peace and quiet.
It’s the city I can’t stand.”


Getting tired of our city versus
country banter?” I asked.


I live for this.”


Good,” I said. “I’d hate to think
we couldn’t be friends despite our differences. So, is Roni
there?”


She’s in the shower.”


Will you tell her I’ll meet her
at your place at two?” I asked. “I’ve got a new referral. I have to
go to Dr. Mirren’s office first.”

A brief pause and Harley answered. “Sure. I know you
don’t like trees, but why don’t you park under that Bradford pear
tree in the front yard? That way you’ll be able to keep the windows
open and your car won’t get too hot on the inside.”


Thanks, Harley. I’ll do that,” I
said. “See you at two.”

I closed the flap on my cell and checked my
lip-gloss in the rear view mirror. After vigorous dieting and daily
workouts, I was 30 pounds lighter than when I fled. My cornflower
blue eyes complement my newly blond hair very well. The day I got
my divorce papers, I had my boobs done. I looked good!

When I arrived at Dr. Mirren’s office, I found out
my new client had changed her appointment to the next day. Armed
with that information, I jumped in my car and got on the highway
again, heading to Roni’s house to switch hats from case manager to
investigator.

Quite by accident, a factory manager had spotted one
of his injured employees playing softball in another county. The
employee in question had been off work for six months with a back
injury so severe he claimed he couldn’t even tolerate light duty,
which involved answering the phone. Angry and feeling betrayed, the
manager hired us to film the next softball game scheduled for that
afternoon.

My mind wandered during the two-hour drive. I
thought about Roni and how lucky I was to have her for a friend.
Easy to spot in any crowd, Roni used to allow her curly red hair
free rein. These days, containing the masses in a ponytail seemed
to be the plan.

Naturally thin and wiry, Roni walks everywhere and
eschews a formal workout program. I have to work at looking good;
Roni has a natural beauty that brings out the green monster in me.
Couple that with an aura of complete contentment and I found it
hard sometimes not to want to smack her upside the head just to see
an expression other than bliss.

Roni wears her contentment like a prom queen wearing
her tiara, which is extremely irritating to those of us who can’t
quite seem to keep it all together, at least not all of it at the
same time. I have been restless my entire life, which causes even
more worry about the state of my mental health.

I finally arrived at Roni’s house and retreated to
her home office to make a few phone calls. When I was done I found
Roni on the porch, staring into the woods and looking a little sad
for a change. The fact I found this oddly comforting as if her
dysfunction might exceed mine for once made me feel guilty. I
called her name, but she didn’t seem to realize I was there.


Earth to Roni,” I said as I waved
my hands in front of her face. “You’re not paying attention. What’s
wrong?”


I’m really distracted. My mind
was a thousand miles away. What did you ask?”


I saw that box propped open with
a stick down by the pole barn,” I said. “What’s Harley up to
now?”


Oh, that. He’s trying to catch
some kind of animal that keeps sneaking into the barn. He can hear
it moving around in there while he’s working on lawn mowers. It’s
driving him crazy. He’s hoping it will try to take the bait and
trip the stick.”


What’s he going to do with it if
he catches it?” I asked.


Hopefully, he’ll take it for a
ride and let it go.”


I’m rooting for the animal,” I
said. “We better get going. The softball game is about to start and
it’ll take us half an hour to get there.”

Roni sighed and said. “I’m really
jealous. Maybe I should have the mother of all mid-life crises and
get breast implants like you did. Then I could wear the revealing
shirts and flash the twins until I get our target’s attention. Then
you would have to film some stupid man showing off, trying to slide
and diving for balls.”

With Roni trailing behind, I started walking toward
my little red convertible, conveniently parked under the Bradford
pear tree just as Harley had suggested. When I spotted the bird
poop all over the car, especially the mirrors, I started screaming.
Roni jumped and dropped the video camera she had been carrying.

BOOK: Worse Than Being Alone
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