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Good ol' Kate.
Kate the bossy.
Kate the brave.
Kate the buttinsky.
Capable Kate. Commanding Kate. Clever Kate.
Even She's-So-Cranky-She-Needs-a-Date Kate.
Podiatrist Kate Cromwell would have gladly (gladly as in mustering up a genuine laugh, a less than enthusiastic smile and pleading, "Fun's over, knock it off now" between gritted teeth) answered to them all.
But the one name she would not respond to, the nickname she had worked long and hard to keep shoved down into the recesses of her long and vivid memory? The name she had vowed to keep off the tips of the tongues of anyone who knew her in the life she had so carefully crafted for herself over the last decade? The name given to her as a nervous, gangly child, always lurking about trying to listen in on grown-up conversations in hopes of finding out something, anything, that might answer some of her questions or help her learn how to heal her broken home? The name that reminded her of how she had, as a young woman, done a cold and hurtful thing that had cost her and two people she loved a chance for happiness as a family? That name she would not, could not, acknowledge, much less accept and respond to with a cheery smile.
"Well, let's get on with this, Scat-Kat-Katie!" Her two o'clock appointment checked the silver wristwatch that bit into the soft flesh of her age-spotted arm. She tapped the crystal above the yellowed face, with the hands clearly pointing to the two and a quarter hour past. She clucked her tongue. "You were born ten days past your due date and have been hurrying to catch up ever since, li'l Scat Kat."
"That's Dr. Scat
uh, that is Kate, if you don't mind." Control. That was what this situation called for. She had a job to do, an unpleasant one, and if she lost control now, Kate would never be able to follow through with her plans. She motioned toward the examining table with the chart in her hand.
"I do mind, I mind very much."
The woman hopped up with ease, plopped down and began to wriggle around, making the white paper beneath her crinkle. "Seeing as I was the one who carried you around those nine months and ten days. Add twenty-three hours of labor, thirty years of working as a single mom to provide a home for you and your sister, pay for your health care, your education, and put in thirty-eight years of pushing you and praying for you."
"That's all understood and appreciated." Soothing yet unyielding. That was the tone Kate had wanted to project.
Hard to do when wrestling with guilt that her mother had made an appointment, the only one Kate had scheduled for today, and Kate and her sister had concocted a plan to use that innocent action for their own purposes. On top of that, Kate was wrangling with her own inner child, who had grabbed a mental calculator and was doing some quick figuring.
Thirty years of work. Mom was sixty-six and had just retired. Dad had taken off when Kate was eight
. Close enough. But that other number bothered her. Thirty-eight years of pushing and praying.
Kate was thirty-nine. Did that mean her mother had started shaving years off out of shame over having a daughter unmarried and nearing forty? Or had Mom actually stopped praying for her sometime in the past year?
Kate was a believer. She knew God's eye was on the sparrow and felt absolutely that He held her in the palm of His hand. But she also drew great strength from feeling her mother had her covered in prayers, as well. Now to wonder about that, and after the lousy year she had had trying to get her practice going, at the cost of a personal life and her life savings
Her stomach clenched. She could hardly swallow.
She used every ounce of her professional decorum to excuse herself, then stepped quietly and confidently out of the examining room. From that point it took every bit of reserve she possessed not to simply run like crazy.
But the urge to run was only a symptom, not the real issue for Kate. In truth, of all the names people had given her, the real one they should have stuck her with was not Scat-Kat-Katie, but Scaredy-Kat-Kate.
Life frightened her. Not everything about it. Not the day-to-day tasks of just scraping by or of doing your duty, those she could handle just fine. Better than fine, if the respect and trust of others were any indication.
But the big things? The monumental decisions? The forks in the road that could forever alter the rest of her or someone else's days? Yikes!
How could anyone not be intimidated by those?
What if she made a mistake? What if she let people down? What if they gave up on her and left her high and dry? What if she made her choice then something better came along? With each thought, the knot in her stomach cinched tighter. How do you trust yourself with these issues when you know, deep down, you are basically clueless?
The urge to run rose like a wave ready to overwhelm her.
Thinking like that was one reason why she had gone from major to major in school, then from job to job, taking years to finally pursue her goal of going to med school. When she'd gotten there, she had specialized in emergency medicine, thinking the fast pace of it would prevent her from getting restless. One year in a real E.R. had dissuaded her of that and she'd been back furthering her education. One after another she had considered and rejected neurology, cardiology, pulmonology and every other ology available to her.
"I just worked my way down the body until there wasn't anything left but the feet!" she had joked.
But it really wasn't that far from the truth. She'd just kept thinking that as soon as she chose anything she'd find her real calling and not be able to follow it because of the previous commitment. It'd just seemed to her that something better just had to be waiting around the next corner.
At some point she'd had to choose. So she had. And then she'd found new ways to keep running. She'd become part of a practice, then had left. She'd worked for a chain of sports-medicine clinics. She'd even done a stint as an expert consultant for a small shoe company. And in between she'd filled in at emergency rooms to pick up a little extra cash. Nothing permanent. Nothing she liked well enough to want to make her stick around.
Finally, her search for something better had led her to the suburbs of Atlanta, where she'd thought living close to her mother's condo and at least sharing the same city with her also-ever-moving sister might finally help her to deal with all the old hurts.
She'd given it eleven months, two weeks and four days so far.
And had failed miserably.
Now whether she wanted to run or not, she would soon have to face the reality of having to leave her practice behind. The one time she hadn't run, she'd been driven out, through no fault of her own.
She couldn't help it if it was hard to find good office staff for what she could afford to pay. She couldn't help it if the fine print on the lease limited the size of the sign she could post, greatly hampering any chance she had of walk-in business. She couldn't help it if she'd opened an office in a place where everyone seemed to have good feet. Could she?
"People could analyze that kind of thinking to death," Kate told herself. "But I'm not one of them."
Her sister Jo, however, was. And when she got on her soapboxer, psych-box?Jo always brought Kate's restlessness back to the same source.
Vince Merchant. "You are not able to make a life for yourself, Kate, because you left the life you really wanted back in Santa Sofia. Back with Vince," Jo had told her once in a fit of truthfulness, the likes of which the loving but guarded sisters rarely shared. "You will never find real peace until you let go of that time, of that man."
Let go. Of Vince?
Vince. Those four months after Kate had graduated college, they had shared the kind of intense but sweet romance that most people only dream of. Kate dreamed of it still. Sixteen years, a couple of almost-engagements and thousands of lousy dates later, this was the only man Kate still thought about and wondered, What if?
A mortgage on a cozy house in a tidy little subdivision in
Kate forgot where Vince had actually lived when not spending his summers in Santa Sofia, Florida. But she knew he had wanted her to go there, help raise his son, Gentry, and grow old with him.
She had wanted that, too. In theory. Right up until the day four-year-old Gentry had said something that had sent Kate runningat first just away from the moment, then later from the engagement and, in doing that, away from the future they had hoped and planned to build together.
So, she'd grown older without Vince. She'd never owned a home or had kids. And she'd never gone back to Santa Sofia.
"If you're moving in the right direction, you have no reason to look back," her mom often said. "Go. Go. Go. Don't stop until you get what you want."
Apparently, Kate had never gotten what she wanted, because that urge to forge ahead, to keep moving, had never left her. Or her mother.
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DorothyDodieCromwell happily obliged. Then when her daughters tried to untangle the things she got herself tangled up in, she would sigh and chide them for not understanding her.
"Some people hang back and watch while the parade passes them by. But others hear the thump-thump-a-thump of the big bass drum and they've got to pick up their feet and march," she'd say. "I'm a marcher. I'm a thump-thump-a-thumper."
Kate had to admit she couldn't have come up with a better description of her mother herself. The problem was that this last parade her mother had decided to join selling her condo to join with two elderly friends in a retirement co-op scheme they had concoctedleft Kate's head feeling as if someone had used it as that big drum.
Now it fell to Kate to pick up the pieces and try to get her mother's life back on track. She couldn't get her own life on track, but her sister Jo had confidence that Kate could get their mom's life sorted out. And that she could do it quickly, without much fuss and no emotional or financial penalties attached.
Kate blinked and exhaled, as if either of those would clear her mind and prepare her for the task ahead. She gathered her senses and went back into the examining room.
"Sorry about that, Mom. I needed to find
" My nerve. Instead of saying that, of course, she bought time by patting her lab-coat pocket, then reaching in and producing a pair of pale blue half glasses, which she held aloft. Not a lie, she justified. Holding up eyeglasses was not a lie. It was just a
Kate clenched her jaw at the rationalization. "You need reading glasses to look at my feet, dear?" It was time to call on Kate the bold. She'd promised she would do this thing. Her mother had presented her with this opportunity. She must act.
Even if the prospect of grabbing the baton, as it were, and commandeering her mother's thump-thump-thumping parade terrified her. What if
"No." Kate tucked the glasses away. "No, Mom, I don't need glasses for this. I need
Dodie squirmed. "And full attention."
She scooted forward, gathering her purse in both hands.
"Obviously, I know everything you've done for me and I appreciate it. I do. But comes the time"
"No? No what?"
"No buts." Dodie held up her right hand, eyes closed. For a moment, with her poise and pocketbook at the ready, she looked as though she were about to take an oath of citizenship. "I've reached an age where I cannot only say what I want but I can hear what I want as well. And I do not want to hear what you have in mind to say after that 'but.'"
Ah, not an oath of citizenship at all. An oath of independence.
"You can put your hand down, Mom. I'm just trying to tell you"
"Oh, Katie, you should be sweet to me." Her mom moved back farther then farther still until the file folder Kate had left on the exam table poked her backside. She quickly snapped it up as if to get it out of her way, but then before Kate could take it from her, flipped it open and began scanning her information. "Because, you know, I am so very
"Sneaky?" Kate snatched the file away.
"Frail," her mother boomed, snatching that file right back and with enough force to nearly drag Kate off her feet.
Mom finished her perusal and, obviously satisfied, handed the file back.
Kate set the file aside again. She didn't need it. She hadn't written in it the things she intended to tell her mother today, anyway. Dodie was not the only sneaky Cromwell in the bunch, after all.
"I know you are up to something." Dodie hunkered down on the table and the paper crackled. She gave her eldest girl what she and her sister had grown up calling the "confess and no one gets hurt" look.
Only it was too late for that. It had always been too late for that because the tight-knitso tightly knit that they often poked one another with their metaphorical knitting needlestrio had lived most of their lives in their own particular world of hurt. It bound them together and yet kept them at arm's lengthwhich was still close enough to get an emotional choke hold, if the need arose.