The next Tuesday, I am on edge all day. I snap at everyone at work, and no one knows why. I have yet to tell anyone at work about my involvement in the therapy group because I don’t want to be the object of more pity or worse, suspicion. Quinn hangs around me looking like a lost puppy, but I pay her no mind. She’s past getting on my last nerve, and I don’t want her around. She is slow to take the hint, though, as it seems she’s used to being ignored or abused. Unfortunately, the more I ignore her, the more she tries to get my attention. I wonder why she’s so persistent about pursuing me when we are obviously such different people. I surmise it’s the thrill of the chase and leave it at that.
“Rayne! Pay attention to me!” Quinn hits the top of my monitor after fruitlessly trying to get my attention for the past fifteen minutes.
“Quinn, I’m trying to work.” I am a bundle of nerves waiting for group. The police haven’t found much concerning the new case. Rosie didn’t have a boyfriend, nor was there any strange man in her life who might have wanted to do away with her. Her surviving child appeared broken up about losing her, but looks can be deceiving. I read every bit of information I can about the murder because I desperately want the murder to have nothing to do with the group. I just can’t be involved in another investigation.
The other thing that disturbs me is that Carol was on television again speaking about the newest case. She did the rounds and declaimed the possibility that the murders had anything to do with the therapy group. She looked professional and serious and in control. I can’t shake the feeling that she is using a tragic situation for her own means. She isn’t crude about it, but she makes sure to mention her upcoming book during every show she’s on as well as the clinic. It makes me queasy to think that she will benefit from the deaths of two women even though I know it’s the American way. I have wavered back and forth about whether to attend the group tonight. I have a feeling it’ll be more upsetting than healing, but I want to know what the other women think about the murders and Carol’s behavior. If I am honest with myself, I also want to see Maria again.
“Rayne!” Quinn whacks me on the back which I find annoying beyond belief.
“Quinn, please. Not today.” I fight the impulse to slap her, but just barely.
“Then when?” Quinn is pouting again. My head starts thumping; I just want to get rid of her, so I acquiesce.
“Tomorrow. We’ll have a drink after work.”
“Great!” Instantly, Quinn’s face is wreathed in smiles as she bounces away. I suppose one night with her isn’t too much to ask for momentary peace. Zing! My sister has emailed me, much to my dismay.
Rayne, I have tried to be patient, but there’s a limit. You’re being very selfish about this. I mean, how long can you go on sulking about it? It’s time to move on, and I have to know if you’re going to come through for me. Weight, dress, fittings, tickets, guest. Email me!”
I have been avoiding her long enough. Even though I don’t agree with her method of delivery, she does have a point. Her wedding is an important day in her life, and I have to try to be supportive even if I hate everything about it. I would want the same from her, so I had better shape up and start communicating. I shoot her back an email letting her know that I have lost the weight, that I have ordered the dress, that I have booked the tickets, and that Paris is coming with me. I don’t mention Lyle as I haven’t asked him yet. I even apologize for not answering in a timely fashion. By the time I send off the email, I am feeling good about our relationship. Hopefully, we can get through this event without killing each other.
I close out the work day without making any major mistakes. I sent out an email to the wrong person, but that was easily fixed. Quinn leaves me alone for the rest of the day which is a relief. When four o’clock rolls around, I am more than ready to leave. The walk home clears the fog from my head. I am calmer than I have been in a long time. Paris is cooking as I walk into the apartment, and Lyle is sitting at the table chatting easily with Paris. I watch them for a minute without them being aware that I’m there. They have that look of a couple who have been together for a long time, more than just a month or two. There is none of the posturing that is evident with newer couples. They touch each other with affection, but not with aggression. I smile at their happiness. Usually with Paris’s partners, the partner is trying too hard to please Paris while he’s lazily complacent. He takes it as his due to be worshiped. I am pleased to see Lyle treating Paris with affection, but not puppy-eyed adoration.
When they finally notice me, they are glad to see me and not all disconcerted. I tell them about my date with Quinn which causes Paris to groan. Of course, Lyle wants to know why a date is a bad thing, and we fill him in on her outrageous behavior. When he inquires why I would possibly go on a date with such a woman, Paris has to say that I’m too soft, that I’m always adopting strays. He tells Lyle funny stories about my quirky friends, and by the time he’s through, I wonder if I have any normal friends at all. After Paris is done selling me as the saint of all nutjobs, I remind him that I have group tonight. Even though I’m usually reticent about such things, it doesn’t bother me if Lyle knows. Besides, Paris has probably told him all about it, anyway.
Paris still doesn’t want me to go, and he has his mouth primmed up which is a sure indication that he’s going to argue. He stirs something at the stove with a little more force than necessary. He thinks it’ll be dangerous for me to go, but I argue that as neither woman was murdered at group, it’s perfectly safe. Ok, it’s specious reasoning, I know, but I’m not up to finding a better reason. Paris announces that he’s going to drop me off and pick me up in a tone that brooks no argument. I say nothing because I know from painful experience that the more I argue, the more set he becomes. Secretly, I’m a tiny bit relieved not to have to walk, but I’ll be damned before I let Paris know that or he’ll hover over me even more.
“We’ll drop you off and pick you up,” Lyle corrects Paris with a smile.
“Call me when dinner’s ready,” is all I say before I go to the living room and turn on the television. I try not to watch the news, preferring to read the papers or checking the headlines online where I have control over how much information I ingest, however, I need to know as much as possible about the murders. They are no longer the headlining story, of course, but are still mentioned, mostly due to Ashley’s prominence.
“The police are still hesitant to say that the crimes are connected. It seems they have a suspect for the former murder, but not the latter. A young man who was an associate of Ms. Stevenson’s is being questioned by the police.” I flip through the channels, but there is little else. I have to wait until group to garner more information.
“As you all know, we are missing another member of our group.” Carol starts off the meeting by mentioning the recent murder. “It’s another tragic occurrence, one we can ill-afford to overlook. Would someone like to say something about it?”
“Yes, I would,” Maria volunteers, her usually cheerful face drawn. Today, she is wearing a subdued outfit of black pants and a black blouse. It’s almost as if she is in mourning. I look around the room and see that a few others are also in all black. I am wearing a dark blue blouse and black jeans, so I’m somber as well. What surprises me is that nobody is missing. We are down to eight, including Carol, but we are all here. “I want to talk about ending the group. I don’t think we’re safe no more.”
“I see,” Carol says neutrally. “How do the rest of you feel about that?”
“I don’t agree,” Sharise says emphatically, leaning forward. “We gotsa to go on, show we brave. If we stop now, then they win. Can’t you see that?”
“Like to go on,” Tudd says gruffly, her face flushing. “Be careful, that’s all.”
“I don’t think the murders have anything to do with the group,” Jennifer says loudly. “They were sinners and God smote them. That’s all.”
“Now you’ve gone too far,” Astarte says angrily. “The divine one is not a god of retribution and rage—no, she is full of love and light. Whoever did these heinous crimes is not an instrument of the goddess, but of the evil forces that plague this world. Don’t put the blame on the divinity.” She pauses, looks around the room and adds, “I think we should end the group. There is a menacing vibe, a bad aura, if you will that ruins what we are trying to accomplish. We would have to perform a ritual cleansing act to purify this room from the evil its seen. I don’t think any of us are prepared to do that.”
“As I was saying,” Jennifer says while shooting a venomous look at Astarte; “I think we should go on. I am not afraid; I am a righteous woman, and God is watching over me.” She crosses herself and stares around the room.
“Rayne, what are your thoughts?” Carol asks, when it becomes apparent that I am not about to speak.
“It’s hard to say.” I am cautious in my reply. “If it were certain that the murders had to do with the group, I would recommend stopping. Because no one is sure that’s the case, I vote for going on. It would be a shame to lose this resource for no reason.”
“I would like to add my thoughts to the matter,” Carol says, looking at each of us. She waits until we all nod before continuing. “What happened to Ashley and Rosie was a terrible thing. I know that we are shell-shocked by the two murders; I won’t pretend anything different. However, I firmly believe in what we are doing here, and I don’t want to stop. I am fully committed to making this group work. So, this is what I think. I propose that we keep the group going. Anyone who wants to leave is free to do so, of course, though she will be sorely missed. I will see about having security on the premises while we’re here. How does that sound?” One by one, we each nod, though some look less convinced than others.
“I have something I’d like to bring up,” I say once that question is settled. “Carol, I’ve seen you on news program talking about this group—what it’s for, the efficacy of it, and so on. I have to admit, I’m a bit uncomfortable about your high-profile.” My heart is pounding as I raise the question. I am new to this group, and I hope I haven’t stepped on any toes.
“I’m glad you brought it up, Rayne,” Carol says earnestly, though a flash of irritation crosses her face. “I can understand how it can be uncomfortable for you to hear me talk about the group on television.”
“I was wondering that, too,” Jennifer interrupts, her eyes stormy. “It’s not right that you’re doing that. It just isn’t.” The other women look as if they agree, though no one else says anything.
“Ok, I can see this is a problem for most of you. I want to explain where I’m coming from, if I may.” Though Carol’s voice is just as modulated as before, there is a thin edge to it. “I am concerned that people will associate the murders with this group. I am already receiving pressure from some of the board members of the clinic to shut down the group. Not to mention the director of the clinic who had to be persuaded to start the group in the first place. I was hoping that by going on television and doing interviews, I can dispel the myth that the deaths had something to do with this group. Perhaps I should have talked about it at the last group, and I’m sorry if I’ve upset anyone.”
“I don’t see how talking about it makes no difference,” Sharise says, her chin jutting out. “All I saw was your face taking up the whole screen.”
“I wanted people to know the good that was being done in the group,” Carol says patiently, her knee beginning to jiggle. “I went to great lengths not to reveal anything confidential or identifying about anyone in the group. I just thought we needed positive publicity as the murders have cast a shadow on the group.”
“What about hawking your new book?” Sharise asks stubbornly, unwilling to let it go. “That ain’t about the group at all.”
“I was not hawking my book,” Carol says impatiently. “I just mentioned it one or two times.” It’s clear that the subject is making her uncomfortable, and like a good therapy group, we won’t let it go.
“Seems to me like you mentioned it more than once or twice,” Sharise grumbles, thoroughly out of sorts now. “Seems to me like it was all I seen when I turn on the tube. Your face selling your book.” The mood is ugly now, and I wait to see what Carol will do with it.
“I’m sorry if you feel that way,” Carol says carefully, her pen doodling on her notepad. “I may have been overzealous in my enthusiasm to protect the group, but you have to understand that I did what I thought was the best for the group. I don’t want to be ordered to shut down, and the more positive press I can garner, the better. Does that make sense?”
“I guess so,” Sharise says grudgingly, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
“I don’t want anyone to know I’m here,” Jennifer says suddenly, apropos of nothing. “If you mentioned my name, I would die.”
“I’m not going to mention names,” Carol exclaims indignantly. “I would hope you all have more trust in me than that.”
“Does that mean you’re not going to stop giving interviews?” I ask, cocking my head to the side. “I would feel better if you didn’t talk about the group at all.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Carol says, shaking her head. “I need to make us look as good as possible to the board. I promise that I will not mention any of you, and I will keep my appearances to a minimum.” There isn’t much more we can say after that, so the meeting veers off into other territory, albeit grudgingly.
I have a hard time concentrating. I am looking over the other women, wondering if they have any connections to Ashley and/or Rosie. I wonder if our time wouldn’t be better spent trying to discover who, if anyone, has reason to murder the two women. If there is a connection, this is where it would be discovered. As far as I know, nobody knows each other outside of group, but I can’t be sure that’s the case. I only know that I don’t know anyone else outside of the group—I’m assuming it’s the case for everyone else as well. I look at the disparate group of women, marveling at how most of us would not run into each other in our daily lives if it weren’t for this group. My mind is taking me into an existential direction, and I block out what is going on around me. Why am I coming to the group when I find it so difficult to stay present? I am jolted back to reality when the door opens and Inspector Robinson and Detective Brady enter the room. I wonder where Sergeant Grimes is, but then realize that I don’t particularly care. My guess is that they decided to have the two women come to a group of women who are trauma survivors. That makes sense. These two could superficially pass as sisters, but whereas Detective Brady is pretty, Inspector Robinson is beautiful. No sane person would look twice at the former while the latter is in the room.