Hummingbird Lane by Carolyn Brown

Chapter One

Emma frowned at her reflection in the spotlessly clean window. She didn’t look all that much different than she had in college. The glass distorted the fine lines around her eyes, but if she put on a little makeup, those would disappear. Her mother, Victoria, fussed at her if she didn’t put on her face every day. She said it would make Emma feel better.

She could smile and pretend to be happy. She had said, “I’m fine,” to her folks when she quit college, to many psychiatrists and doctors, and even to Nancy, the therapist here at the Oak Lawn Wellness Center, but in truth she felt like she was drowning and everyone around her was still breathing. Sometimes it made her angry that their lungs were taking in oxygen and hers were filling with dirty, muddy water. Other times, she just felt a numb darkness draping itself around her, and she didn’t even have the energy to get mad at those folks who had “happy times to hang on to.”

Nancy’s words, not hers. Her therapist kept telling her to find a happy time, use it for a foundation, and build on it. But the only happy times she had left in her memories were from before she was twelve years old. After that it was all downhill.

A bright-red cardinal and his less colorful mate landed on the windowsill. They sang like they were happy, but then, birds didn’t get depressed. When a baby bird flew out of the nest, like she had when she went off to one of the most prestigious art colleges in Texas, it didn’t come home wounded and unable to utter a word about its horrible experience. Birds just found a mate of their own species, laid eggs, and raised babies to fly away to live their own lives. A perpetual circle of life with no pills to try to cure a weeping soul. Emma wished she was a bird. Maybe then she could find a happy place again. Maybe in some realm of the universe, she could go back to that time when Sophie had come to the house a couple of times a week with Rebel and she’d had a true friend.

A soft knock took Emma’s attention from the window, where she was looking out over a lovely flower garden. Her chest tightened and her palms went clammy until she saw that it was Nancy. The sign on her door said FEMALES ONLY, but sometimes a male orderly ignored it and came in to clean the room. Her last panic attack had almost sent her into intensive care, but then the guy who’d caused it was as big as—well—a linebacker on a football team.

“Good morning,” Nancy said. “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m fine,” Emma answered. “How are you today?”

Nancy sat down on the love seat and opened her computer. “I’m doing very well. Can you tell me your name?”

“Emma Darlene Merrill. I’m past thirty years old, and I’m fine,” Emma said.

“Let’s talk about what fine means. Does it mean that you didn’t have a bad dream last night?” Nancy had dark hair that had begun to go gray. She always wore muted light-green scrubs. Emma thought the color was horrible on her, but then, that color was supposed to be soothing.

“Fine means that I’m all right. I’ve been here for weeks, and I’m ready to go home now.” Where was the anger when she needed it? Why couldn’t it come boiling up from her insides and rush out of her body like molten lava, like it sometimes did when she was alone? That kind of emotion or display of tears would make Nancy happy, but Emma just didn’t have the energy to do either one that day.

“Have you thought of happy times, like I asked you to yesterday?” Nancy asked. “If we could dwell on those times today, it might make you really feel fine. Let’s talk about your parents. Did you think about a vacation with them, or maybe a birthday party they threw you when you were a little girl?”

Emma shook her head. “Happy means Sophia.”

Nancy sat up a little straighter. Emma knew that action meant that she was thinking they might be having what other counselors called a breakthrough. “Who’s Sophia? She hasn’t come up here or in the reports from the other therapists.”

“Mother doesn’t like for me to talk about her.” Emma shook her head slowly. “But she has nothing to do with what happened in college.”

“How do you know that?” Nancy asked.

“Because Sophie wouldn’t hurt me,” Emma said.

Nancy lowered her voice. “Someone hurt you. How does that make you feel?”

“Like I’m drowning,” Emma answered. “I can swim. Mother made sure I had swimming lessons, so . . .” She shrugged.