I have no recollection of the trip from my office to the parking lot. None whatsoever. My memories pick up inside the BMW, halfway cross-town to the school. With my right hand, I poked around in my purse in search of my cell phone. When I’d finally managed to extricate it from its hiding place below all of the varied forms of junk that occupied the bag, I keyed for Contacts and scrolled with my right thumb down to School. I hit “Send,” switched hands and took a right turn on Oleander St.; halfway there.
If there is anything more annoying on the face of this earth than voice messaging systems, I have yet to discover it. I am tempted, more often than I care to think, to ask patients how many voice messaging systems they have had to negotiate prior to their appointments, acting on the assumption that the higher the number, the higher the level of stress and anxiety I was going to have to face.
“You have reached the offices of McCarron High School.. “
I pulled the phone away from my left ear and started pounding on the “0” key repeatedly, putting it back to my ear after doing so at least a dozen times. I heard a ring and then, a human voice.
“McCarron High School.”
“Yes, this is Adara Davis,” I said. “Paige Davis’ mother. My daughter just called me and asked if I could pick her up. Would you happen to know if she’s in the nurse’s office?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Davis,” she said, whoever she was. “If you give me just a minute, I’ll check.”
I was on the verge of asking her the real question I wanted to ask, but shelved it for the moment. A light turned yellow in front of me and I pointedly ignored it, to the annoyance of someone playing ‘jump the green light’ in the opposite direction. I heard the Doppler version of his horn as I sped through the intersection.
“Yes,” I said.
“She is in the nurse’s office. Would you like to speak to her?”
“No, that won’t be necessary, I’ll be there shortly,” I told her, pausing for a bit as I tried to figure out exactly how to ask my next question.
“Yes,” I said, stalling. “Just a minute.”
It wasn’t really a minute, but it was close.
“Did she call me from the nurse’s office?”
“Well, I don’t know, Mrs. Davis. I guess so.”
“Would it be the same number?”
“Yes. As the main office. The one I’m calling now.”
“Well,” she said, hesitant, not sure of the answer. “I suppose so. Yes, now that I think about it. Yes. The nurse’s office is an extension of the main number.”
“Do you have ways of keeping track of any outgoing calls from that extension?”
Now she was really puzzled. I could hear it in her silence. Could see an imaginary woman sitting behind a hypothetical desk, raising her eyebrows at the question.
“ Well, I don’t know,” she said finally, “but I don’t think so. Why would. . .Mrs. Davis, could I put you on hold for just a minute?”
It was just as well. What I was about to tell her wasn’t really going to do any good on her ears. The minute we got to the ‘why’ she was going to transfer me anyway. Oleander meandered all over the map as it drew closer to the school. I could see the outlines of the football stadium off to the east of the main campus buildings. Finally a sterner, more concerned voice, trying to sound chipper and helpful popped into my ear.
“Mrs. Davis? This is Carolyn Willingham. I’m the uhh, assistant principal here. Is there something I can do to help you?”
“Yes,” I said, as I crossed a small rise in the road and the full campus came into view. “I’m on my way in. Should be there in about five minutes. My daughter just called and asked me to pick her up. She’s apparently having a rough day with her period.”
“Uh, huh,” she said, sympathetic as all hell, but no doubt wondering what else was on my mind. “Mrs. Dexter said you had a question about our phones?”
“Yes, I do,” I told her. “I’ll be pulling in in just a minute. If I could speak to you briefly after I see my daughter?”
“Certainly,” she said. “You’ll be coming in through the main entrance and I’ll meet you there. We’ll take you to Paige and you can drop by my office before you leave.”
“Thank you,” I said, disconnecting.
“Honor your father and mother!” the voice had said. I could hear it, ringing in my ear, reverberating through everything that had happened since that horrific dream had woken me, hours before.He had called from my daughter’s school!!
I had one more call to make before I faced what would no doubt be one cool customer in the person of Carolyn Willingham. As assistant principal of McCarron High School, she, and no doubt assistant principals all over the US, had dealt with many varieties of hysterical parents, and while I prided myself, somewhat, on my abilities to reason and conduct conversation devoid of anything resembling hysteria, this woman was about to deal with a new breed of animal.
I keyed back to Contacts, scrolled down to Forsythe, and hit “Send” again. The phone rang briefly, and a voice that almost, though not quite, calmed me in an instant, answered.
“Dan? It’s me, Addie!”
“Addie,” he said, cheerfully. “Make my day. Shouldn’t you be in your stuffy office with somebody on a couch?”
“As a matter of fact, I should be,” I told him. “Hang on, will you? I have to park. I’m at McCarron High School, picking Paige up and I have to park this tank.”
I put the phone down on the passenger seat and backed into an open slot in the school’s curved roadway to the front entrance. Yellow school buses were lined up directly in front of the door, in anticipation of the mass exodus, that as I checked my watch, I realized was only about two hours away. I surprised myself and slid into the available slot on the first try without hitting the curb. I snapped off the seat belt, but opted to keep the car and the AC going for a bit, as I picked up the phone.
“Yeah,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Look, I’ve got a little . . situation here that’s getting a little weird and I think I’m going to need your help.”
“Is Paige all right?” he asked, the concern in his voice evident and welcome.
"Yeah, she’s fine,” I told him. “For now. Just not feeling too well. She asked me to pick her up, so I came out here.”
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
I laughed out loud at that. Dan Forsythe knew about my so-called proclivities when it came to the visions or signs or whatever it was that one chose to call them. In general, he laughed them off, shrugging them off in a way that he had since we were friends. . .well, a little more than friends, since high school.
“You’re just too sensitive,” he used to tell me. “You pick up vibes like bat radar, that’s all.”
“Look,” I said, reaching over onto the passenger seat and gathering my purse for an exit. “There is no way that I’m going to be able to tell you this right now, but can we get together later?”
“I don’t think so,” he said abruptly.
“Dan. . “
“Addie, what’s up? You don’t call me in the middle of an afternoon to chat. Whatever kind of bug you got up your **** is serious for you to be calling me like this. You going right home with Paige?”
“Yeah,” I told him. “That’s the plan.”
“All right,” he said, “I’ll meet you there in an hour, all right?”
“Sure,” I said, as always, stunned by his willingness to drop everything and help me when I called.
About anything. Franco had been out of town when Paige was born. Nothing ominous about it. The man just happened to be somewhere else when Paige, about two weeks earlier than expected, had decided to join us. I was to find out later that Dan had walked away from a crime scene to join me at the hospital. He’d stayed by my side for nearly 10 hours until Franco showed up and took over.
“Quick question,” I said, as I opened the car door and swung my legs out. “Is it possible to determine which phone in an extension system made a call?”
“Which phone. . .?” he said, at least as puzzled as the school receptionist.
“Yeah,” I said. “I got a call in my office earlier today and it came from a number with a lot of extensions. Is it possible to trace that call to that specific extension?”
“Who called you?” he asked, jumping past a detail to get to the core of what was going on.
“Never mind,” I said, as I approached the set of glass doors that led into the school. “I’ll see you at the house.”
“Addie. . “ he said, but I cut him off.
There was no way I was going to start that conversation with him as the briskly efficient Carolyn Willingham emerged from those glass doors to greet me.
“Mrs. Davis?” she said, with one of those practiced administrative smiles, extending a hand.
She was dressed in a very business-like pants suit made of some light gray material that shimmered as she moved. She wore a white blouse under the jacket with ruffles that went clear to the neck. While it was no doubt air-conditioned within the school walls, the suit made me hot, just looking at it. She had short, brown hair that framed her face and as she stopped moving forward to extend her hand, the hair kept going. Not a hint of concern in deep set brown eyes, but she didn’t fool me. She was out in front of the school, trying to assess how much damage control she might have to do in the next few minutes.
“Hi,” she said, her hand still out there. “I’m Carolyn Willingham. Nice to meet you.”
I took the hand, which gripped me firmly for just a second, because I was still on the move. She turned with me and somehow managed to scuttle past me, moving at a pretty good clip, to the front door, which she opened and motioned me forward.
“Right this way,” she said, motioning toward a corridor off to the right of the glass-enclosed central office directly in front of us as we entered. “I went to the nurse’s office to see Paige.”
She was no doubt expecting some sort of response, because not getting one threw her just a bit off stride. I knew exactly where the nurse’s office was. It was not the first time that I’d been called and I hadn’t stopped moving since I’d gotten out of the car. For all I knew, Mr. Honor Your Father and Mother was the school janitor, possibly mopping the floor right in front of Paige. I wasn’t in the mood for idle chit-chat, but Willingham soldiered on.
“We get this complaint a lot, as you can imagine,” she went on, her heels clicking on the tile floor as we more or less raced in the direction of the nurse’s office, “but school regulations prohibit us from dispensing any medications whatsoever.
“Even as simple as aspirin,” she added, with another chuckle, as though she wanted me to sympathize. I still wasn’t in the mood.
I saw Paige, seated on an industrial grey chair with faux leather upholstery, her back to me, through the glass windows of the nurse’s office and beyond her, behind a desk in front of a set of metal, grey cabinets, was the nurse, in a starched white uniform. The vision alone was enough to send a wave of relief through me that slowed me down by half. Willingham, still mumbling things I’d stopped listening to, almost barreled into me and we exchanged a little chuckle over it.
I wanted to talk to the nurse alone and turned to face Willingham.
"I’ll just be a moment,” I said. “I’ll drop by your office when I’m done.”
She had been fully expecting to join me in visiting and extracting my daughter from the nurse’s office and like my failure to respond earlier, this new tactic of telling her how we were going to handle these next few moments threw her off stride and she stammered. Her body twitched in place for just a minute, as she tried to figure out in which direction it should move.
“Uhh. . .yes,” she said. “Of course. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“Thank you,” I said, staring right at her and trying to use some of my much-touted abilities to physically move this woman in the direction from whence she’d come. It worked. One brave smile, not another word, she turned and headed away. Her heels echoed in the empty hallway as I turned and opened the door to the nurse’s office.