The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton – Extract

The Edge of Normal

PROLOGUE

Seattle, Washington Six Years Earlier

Her name had been out of the headlines so long that he was sure no one was searching for her when he fit the key into the lock for the last time. The door swung wide on its hinges, but he felt no need to secure it behind him. The steps groaned beneath his weight as he descended into the basement and ordered her to stand and face the wall.

First came the blindfold. Next, the handcuffs. He wrenched her hands behind her, tightening the cuffs until she flinched.

Then he bent close, inhaling her scent, lingering over her neck, admiring the pattern of scars that laced her skin. With a thumb, he slowly traced the crenulated edge of the newest one, still bright pink, which ran from her left shoulder blade, down and across her spine, to a sweet spot just above the waistband of her pink-and-black pajama bottoms.

“Turn around and open your mouth,” he said, and when she did, he put a tablet on her tongue and told her to swallow. He’d calculated a dose that would make her sleepy enough for the trip, but not so drugged that he couldn’t rouse her for what he’d planned for later.

Encircling her neck in a loose headlock, he licked his lips and whispered, “Now, my little cricket, we’re going on an adventure. Don’t dare even chirp.”

Her old sneakers were much too small and he hadn’t thought to buy shoes, so she went barefoot as he steered her up the stairs.

He paused at the door and snapped off the only burning light before moving through the kitchen toward the back, where he had everything ready. He peeked through the blinds. The neighborhood was quiet. The trees that shaded his backyard were in full leaf, obscuring the view of any neighbors. Better yet, it was raining.

He slipped a hooded poncho over her head, opened the door, and shoved her out ahead of him. The pair moved across the porch and down the back steps. The grass soaked his shoes as he walked her small frame along the path and through the back gate into the alley.

It was well past midnight and he had planned out every detail, but this was the risky part. A streetlight glared across one unavoidable stretch. In just three paces, they were back in the protective shadows, and in three more they were at the car.

The silver Mercury Grand Marquis was parked at an angle, with the trunk unlatched. He opened it, lifted her in his arms, and quickly placed her inside, muttering, “Lie down and be still.”

He had lined the trunk with an old quilt earlier that night. This was mainly to dampen any sound, but it also gave her a cushion to lie on, and he planned to remind her of this act of kindness if she complained later.

Once she was locked in the trunk, he slipped into the driver’s seat and settled behind the wheel, sitting in the darkness, scanning windows and watching for movement.

A cat skittered across the alley and disappeared into the brush. A breeze stirred the leaves overhead and fat raindrops spattered his windshield. Nothing else.

He waited another moment, stroking his thick, unkempt beard, then turned the key in the ignition and eased the car down the alley, where he clicked on his headlights and turned left. There was no traffic, but the rain was coming down harder now, and he scrupulously watched his speed, braking gently at two red lights before turning onto the road that wound through the arboretum. His tires made wet hissing sounds as he made the turns.

Daryl Wayne Flint smiled, glad for the added concealment of the rain, feeling certain that he’d managed it all perfectly.

The whole process of packing up and moving had been a headache, but everything was finally set. He would soon have her secured in his new house, a roomy place set far back from the road. Private and rural, with a big basement that made it all worth the risk. Its floor was flat and even, so that he could wheel his equipment around with no trouble. Its ceiling was high, and the overhead beams would be perfect for securing hooks.

But as shrewd as he was, Daryl Wayne Flint hadn’t fully considered that even on a wet Wednesday night, Seattle’s bars might be busy well past midnight. Or that some stubborn patrons could linger until bartenders had to shoo them out. Or that a few customers would stagger out too drunk to drive. Or that one particular driver would fail to turn on his headlights and come barreling down the steepest part of 23rd Avenue just as a silver Mercury turned into his path.

Flint barely glimpsed the coming collision and never saw the explosion of breaking glass glittering in the rain as the two cars smashed and spun.

ONE

San Francisco, California
Tuesday before Thanksgiving

Tuesdays are always a test, and getting to his office is the hard part, but twenty-two-year-old Reeve LeClaire has never told her psychiatrist about her route. It begins with a short walk to the Ferry Building, where she routinely orders a hot chocolate and carries it outside, sipping its sweetness while watching the ferries emerge from the fog. The boats come from Vallejo and Larkspur and Sausalito, trailing white foam and flocks of gulls before stopping to off-load a morning rush of commuters.

When the sun breaks through the fog, Reeve turns her face to it, shuts her eyes, and savors the red heat on her eyelids.

No one notices her in the flow of the crowd, and she feels almost smug about her anonymity. She’s hardly recognizable as the schoolgirl pictured in the “Missing” posters, or the pasty waif heralded in the tabloids. Though still on the small side, she has grown an inch and gained sixteen pounds. Her teeth are fixed. She is clean and smooth and has plucked her eyebrows to precise arcs.

Her hair has grown back so nicely that it’s almost a source of pride. She often changes its color to black or blond or, today, maroon. She wears it neatly cut, feathered, and always long enough to cover the scars that remain visible on the back of her neck.

When the clock tower begins its 9:00 a.m. chime, Reeve shoulders her bag. By the time its elaborate music is finished and it’s pealing seven . . . eight . . . nine, she is out of the Ferry Building and crossing onto Market Street. The street vendors and musicians are too busy to bother her. But the farther she makes herself walk down this street, the more cautious she must become.

She sets her jaw. Here comes the wooly-faced man with the tarp-covered cart. He’s always here, hustling the corner by the bank, but she forces herself to look straight ahead as she hurries down the sidewalk, skin prickling.

Next comes the BART station, with its gauntlet of grubby people. She veers around them and comes face-to-face with the tall man in the smeared raincoat. She holds her breath and charges onward as he barks, “God bless you!” at her back.

She squares her shoulders. She’s doing fine. Two more blocks and then she’s nearly there. She feels the air on her face. Her legs are strong and she walks with purpose.

As she passes the sidewalk café, a handsome young waiter catches her eye and smiles, but she looks away. Why would she trust guys who pretend she’s pretty? She knows very well that she is not, with her crooked nose and pointy chin.

She looks down at the sidewalk and follows the feet walking in front of her, then glances up and sees the safety of the Hobart Building, where the guard makes every visitor sign in. She waits at the crosswalk, balanced on the balls of her feet, watching traffic, scanning the last dangerous stretch. The light changes and she hurries across the intersection. The moment she reaches the other side, the filthy man in the wheelchair rolls into view.

Reeve stops, feeling her chest knot. She considers crossing back to the other side of the street and approaching the building from the far corner, by the flower stand. But the man is looking the other way. If he just keeps rolling forward, Reeve can slip past behind him, unseen.

She calculates, takes a breath, and hurries toward the building’s entrance. She is twenty feet away . . . ten . . . five . . . when the man in the rolling chair works his wheels and pivots. His eyes blaze. His whiskers jut out like wire.

Reeve jumps back, swallows, and charges past him into the building, where she stops in the cool lobby to catch her breath. Next, she confronts the elevator. It’s so old and small that it feels cramped with just three people. She knows she could do it; she has done so in the past. But not today. She opts for the stairs.

The waiting area of Dr. Ezra Lerner’s office is always scented with citrus, and she is relieved to arrive early so she can enjoy the fragrance and cool down after climbing nine flights. She nods at the receptionist, a pleasant woman with a Cupid’s-bow mouth, and slides into her favorite chair.

The walls are pale jade, and a white orchid blooms from a cobalt-colored pot on the coffee table. She picks up the latest copy of The New Yorker and flips through, looking at photos and reading cartoons. Sometimes she gets all of them, but today they seem obscure. She studies them for meaning and chides herself for not following the news.

At exactly 9:30, the receptionist says, “Miss, Dr. Lerner will see you now.” Patient privacy is strict office etiquette, another reason Reeve feels safe here. The receptionist never calls out her name, even if no one else is in the waiting room. Only her family, a few people in law enforcement, and Dr.

Lerner know that Regina Victoria LeClaire, the girl who was kidnapped at age twelve and held captive for nearly four years, has legally changed her name.

She is no longer “Edgy Reggie,” the feral girl who responded to media attention by whacking down cameras. She now thinks of herself as agile, not skittish. As serious, not grim. She has transformed into a composed young woman who is living a pleasant, structured life. She even has a job.

As Reeve replaces the magazine beside the orchid and stands, the office phone rings, which is slightly unusual, and as she walks down the carpeted hallway to Dr. Lerner’s door, she hears the receptionist’s bright greeting fade to a darker tone: “Oh no. . . . Oh no . . . Yes, of course, but the doctor has a patient and . . .”

Reeve puts her hand on the doorknob and pauses to listen, but Dr. Lerner swings open his door, saying, “Reeve, always so good to see you.”

Dr. Ezra Lerner perhaps looks too young to be an expert of any kind, but he is in fact a leading authority on captivity syndromes, which is why Reeve’s father first contacted him. He has the taut, compact physique of a gymnast. His face is clean shaven, his eyes observant. His little dog, a shaggy mutt named Bitsy, stands beside him, wagging her tail and looking up at Reeve with canine adoration.

Reeve stoops to scratch Bitsy’s head. “It’s good to see you, too.”

She crosses the small room to take her usual seat on the sofa, pats the cushion, and Bitsy jumps up beside her.

Dr. Lerner settles into his chair, watching her, and asks how she’s sleeping. He always asks this.

“Nothing to report. No bad dreams. No panic attacks. I haven’t had a nightmare in so long, I’m starting to feel boring.”

Almost normal, she thinks, though that’s a term that Dr. Lerner would

never use. During the early stages, she met with him for hours at a time. Then three times a week. Then twice a week. And now only on Tuesdays, a measure of her progress.

He asks a few questions about her new job, and with a slight smile, she retrieves a sheet of folded notepaper from her pocket. “Homework,” she volunteers, waving the paper. “Right here.”

She unfolds it, saying, “I thought about the reasons I like working at the restaurant. And even though it’s only part-time, it’s a pretty long list.” She glances up, adding, “A good thing, but I’ll try to keep it brief.”

A smile flickers across Dr. Lerner’s face an instant before his cell phone pings a muted note and his smile fades. “I’m very sorry, Reeve. Please excuse me a second,” he says, checking the screen.

She stiffens. Dr. Lerner has never allowed himself to be distracted during their sessions before. “Is it an emergency?”

He scowls at the phone, shakes his head, and sets it on the corner of his desk. “I’m sorry, Reeve. Please continue.”

“But do you need—”

“No, no, it can wait.” He takes a breath, bringing his gaze up to hers. “You were telling me about the restaurant.”

She hesitates.

“You were afraid you wouldn’t like it,” he prompts.

“Um, right. But just the opposite. And part of the reason I like it so much, I think, is that it has no emotional baggage.”

“Ah. Meaning what, exactly?”

“Well, Japanese food is a long way from cold pizza and warm soda.” She smirks, dimpling one cheek.

“That’s a good realization on your part. What else?”

Holding the list in her right hand and stroking Bitsy with her damaged left hand, she tells him about the pleasure she takes in the simple formality of the Japanese, the ritual of bowing, the fresh clean smell of green tea. “And I’m learning the language,” she adds.

“Excellent. It’s a tough language.” He steeples his fingers. “You were good at languages in high school, weren’t you?”

She shoots him a cross look. “You’re not going to start bugging me about college now, are you?”

“College?”

Rolling her eyes, she continues, “Anyway, on the topic of my homework, I’ve realized that sounds really affect me. You know, maybe after so much silence.” She has written, Dr. Lerner’s voice is smooth as caramel, but doesn’t say this, and now recalls how his tone sharpened when he testified in court, how everyone sat forward, watching as a strange intensity rose off him like heat.

“Yes? What kinds of sounds?”

“For instance, Takami-san has this very soft voice, almost a whisper. And the sushi chef ’s knife clicks on the cutting board. And the music in the restaurant is almost Zen-like. Instrumentals, you know. No insipid lyrics.”

“You enjoy it? That’s progress.”

She’d had trouble with music for years, complaining that it all sounded like noise to her. Dr. Lerner had suggested that she was suffering from anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure.

She strokes Bitsy’s head. “Now you’re going to ask me about Thanks- giving.”

“Right, good. You’re having dinner with your family, aren’t you? Any anxieties about that?”

She shakes her head, leans back, and tells him about her father’s new live-in girlfriend. “She’s going to cook Thanksgiving dinner, which will certainly give us all something to be thankful for.”

Dr. Lerner is nodding and commenting as usual when his cell phone pings again. His gaze flickers to the phone and back. “I apologize again, Reeve. Please excuse me a moment.” He picks up the phone, studies it, then glances toward the door.

She rocks forward, unsettling Bitsy. “Seriously, don’t you need to answer that?”

His brow creases as he shoots another look at the door. “Not just yet.” “Are you sure?”

Reeve can’t help but notice his pained expression as he sets the phone aside. She wonders if hostages have been released somewhere in Mexico or Iran, and again chides herself for not following the news.

TWO

Jefferson City, California

Otis Poe’s size helps him. He sits a foot taller than any of these interlopers. One newscaster after another tries to edge him aside—here’s that skinny bitch from Sacramento, that flashy dude from CNN—but no out-of-towner is going to claim his turf.

He owns this story.

Poe has been working it since the first day of the first kidnapping. He has written dozens of articles and countless blogs. These newcomers can shuffle and bump all they want, but damned if he’ll give an inch.

He got here early, like he always does. He claimed a seat in the very first row. But word has leaked out. News vans are parking out front, satellite dishes are sprouting like mushrooms, and all kinds of newspeople are clamoring for a spot.

Some of them recognize him, of course. His shaved head, roughly the shape and color of baked bread, is hard to miss, especially in this small, vanilla community. A few reporters shake his hand and try to pump him for information, but he just chills. Poe has been sniffing out leads and covering news for The Jefferson Express for nearly seven years. He has earned his connections. And if these leeches want any news from him, they can buy a copy of the paper. Or better yet, read his blog.

The decibel level climbs as spectators crowd in and sidle along the rows of pew-like benches, wedging themselves into any available seat. The room would be plenty large for the usual press conference, but it’s ill-equipped for this growing mob.

The bailiff turns away stragglers and shuts the doors. The crowd buzzes with anticipation, and Poe keeps his ears open, ready to jot down anything new as opinions are shared and rumors embellished all around him. Uniformed deputies and police officers file in and stand behind the podium, and Poe sits forward to watch a feminine officer who always reminds him of his curly-haired high school sweetheart. She looks pensive, talking with that muscle-bound FBI agent.

Poe smirks. He’d heard the FBI was back in town.

Three times Poe has watched federal agents charge up to Jefferson, hoping to be heroes. They arrive with speed and gravitas, but then slowly drift away. Because everyone knows that a child missing more than forty-eight hours is rarely saved. And Poe figures that the FBI doesn’t like to wait around while days turn to weeks and months, that they don’t like taking the blame for finding only decomposed remains.

Now that the story has changed, this steroid-infused agent and his bud- dies have made the long trek up from the Sacramento field office so they can help themselves to a big slice of glory pie.

Hypocrites.

Sheriff Mike Garcia, a stout man in cowboy boots, finally enters from a side room. Heads turn and the room quiets as the sheriff approaches the podium. Pens are poised, cameras are focused, lights glare, and the temperature rises. The sheriff adjusts his steel-rimmed glasses, bends toward the microphone, tests for sound. Television reporters cue technicians. News feeds are opened as Sheriff Garcia makes introductory remarks, acknowledging various civilians and law enforcement officers. At last, he stands tall and gets down to business, declaring, “It is my pleasure to announce to you today that thirteen-year-old Tilly Cavanaugh, who was kidnapped in October of last year, has been found alive and—”

A collective gasp surges through the room.

Louder, the sheriff continues, “Tilly Cavanaugh was rescued early yesterday from a locked basement in a residence on the outskirts of Jefferson County.”

The crowd murmurs, but Otis Poe yawns. He already knows the address, a remote place west of town on Tevis Ranch Road. He drove all the way out there and was taking pictures at dawn.

“She was found alive,” the sheriff is saying, “and was taken to St. Jude’s Hospital, where, after a full medical examination and necessary treatment, she was declared in good enough health to be reunited with her family.”

The crowd ripples with excitement. “Have you arrested someone?” a man yells, and reporters start barking questions.

“Quiet, please!” The sheriff’s voice cuts through the hollering. “Hold your questions. Please let me finish.” He glares from wall to wall and the crowd goes still.

“A suspect in the abduction of Tilly Cavanaugh has been arrested,” he continues, and the room seems to collectively hold its breath, waiting for the name of the man they are all poised to hate.

The sheriff grips the podium. “Thirty-five-year-old Randy Vanderholt, a janitor at Three Rivers Mall, was taken into custody, and—”

“Hang him!” someone bellows. “Shoot the pervert!” another agrees.

The sheriff scowls. “Quiet down, please. This investigation is at a preliminary stage. I’ll have only limited comments today, but would like to outline some of the facts leading up to Tilly Cavanaugh’s rescue.”

“Please do,” Otis Poe mutters under his breath. He posted this same news on his blog hours ago. Now he’s on deadline, and his usual sources have come up short, so he’s itching to hear something new. Ace detective work. Astute deductions. Eyewitness accounts, or perhaps overheard screams. Something dramatic.

“Will the family be speaking today?” a reporter calls out.

The sheriff ignores the question and gestures to his right, saying, “At this point, I’d like to turn the microphone over to Lieutenant Paul Stephens, who heads up the Joint Special Operations Task Force.”

Poe sits forward and jots down: Lt. Stephens, JSOTF gets the credit?

A tall, reedy man approaches the microphone. His Adam’s apple bobs up and down, but Lieutenant Stephens speaks in a deep, resonant voice: “Early yesterday morning, we received a call regarding possible evidence in a vacant house.”

Poe’s eyebrows rise. He has seen the house on Tevis Ranch Road himself, with the blinds open, the furnished interior exposed. He clicks his pen and writes: What vacant house? A 2nd address?

“A local real estate agent named Emily Ewing—” Lieutenant Stephens looks up and nods at a well-dressed, angular woman, who nods back “—discovered that the house had some, uh, suspicious features.”

Poe sits forward, eager to absorb this new wrinkle in the case.

“Ewing learned that there was supposed to be an entrance to a basement, but it wasn’t visible. So, with the owner’s consent, a wall was re- moved, and . . .” Stephens flips to the next page, scanning past sections of the report before continuing, “and investigators discovered evidence of possible crimes having been committed. The owner subsequently confirmed that the residence had been rented for a period, but had recently been put up for sale, and he provided information about his former tenant, Randy Vanderholt.”

Lieutenant Stephens clears his throat and looks up. “We located the suspect and under questioning learned that he had since moved to another residence in an unincorporated area of Jefferson County. The suspect cooperated in granting inspection of that premises, of his address on Tevis Ranch Road, where Tilly Cavanaugh was subsequently discovered alive—” the lieutenant’s voice breaks slightly “—alive in a cellar under the garage.”

The noise level rises and falls as Poe jots down: Two addresses = Tilly was moved?

Stephens continues, “The victim was thin but appeared alert. And when we asked her name, she confirmed that she was Tilly Cavanaugh.”

Poe makes a note to himself to quiz his contacts at the hospital to see if he can find out more details about Tilly’s physical condition, while Sheriff Garcia thanks the lieutenant and retakes the podium.

The sheriff adjusts his glasses, saying, “The suspect was arrested at the scene. Mr. Vanderholt was advised of his rights and is being held pending charges at our new county jail.”

“Deluxe accommodations,” someone snickers.

The sheriff ignores this jab about the outrageously expensive new jail. “The district attorney’s office is preparing criminal charges, and we expect Vanderholt’s arraignment will be scheduled shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.”

“Isn’t it true that Vanderholt confessed?” Poe shouts. Exclamations surge through the room.

Sheriff Garcia glowers at Poe and bends close to the microphone. “The investigation is ongoing. We can only say that we expect further charges to come from the district attorney’s office next week. Now, we have time for a few brief questions.”

The reporters explode with pent-up energy, waving and shouting, while Sheriff Garcia puts up his palms in a gesture more like surrender than a signal for quiet. He struggles to maintain order while handling one question after another.

But in Poe’s view, the sheriff skirts past the most crucial information, recounting basic facts without sharing any juicy details. And isn’t he trying to make it sound like Tilly’s rescue was due to daring acts and clever police work rather than just dumb luck?

When he can’t stand it any longer, Poe shouts, “How come Vanderholt wasn’t found months ago? Why wasn’t he questioned by law enforcement?”

Sheriff Garcia stiffens. “Every single one of the registered sex offenders in our county was interviewed. But since the suspect did not fit that category, he therefore was not previously investigated as regards this kidnapping.”

“Isn’t it true that Vanderholt has a criminal record?”

“It’s true that the suspect was previously incarcerated for car theft.” Sheriff Garcia’s brow glistens under the hot lights. “But he served his time and was released from Folsom Prison more than eighteen months ago.”

Spectators mutter. The reporters’ questions become barbed. Garcia shifts his weight from one shiny boot to the other, denying that law enforcement botched the investigation, denying that they overlooked key evidence.

Otis Poe stands and his voice carries over the grumbling crowd: “Is there any evidence that Randy Vanderholt also kidnapped Abby Hill and Hannah Creighton?”

The mention of these other names sets a fresh wave of commotion rolling through the room.

“Yeah, what about those other missing girls?” another reporter yells. “Did you find any clues to their whereabouts?”

“Are these cases linked?” an anorexic television reporter demands, pressing a microphone toward Sheriff Garcia. “Three local girls have disappeared over the past two years. Do you suspect Vanderholt of serial kidnapping?”

The sheriff’s expression darkens and he shakes his head like an old dog. “The investigation is ongoing, and as I’ve explained, we cannot go into any further details at this time.”

With a sharp glance at Poe, he straightens. “That concludes our comments for today. The Cavanaugh family has asked me to thank everyone for the outpouring of support over the past thirteen months. They intend to make a public statement sometime next week. They are grateful to every- one involved in bringing Tilly home. And I’d particularly like to recognize the close cooperation between the FBI and Jefferson County law enforcement agencies, especially all those who . . .”

Otis Poe groans, writing: blah, blah, blah.

As the press conference concludes and Poe stands to leave, his bald head towering above the throng, all the out-of-town reporters start scrambling for interviews. Television personalities rally their camera crews, lick their lips, and prepare to give stand-up reports. Meanwhile, local citizens mill around, grinning at one another, murmuring words of praise, concern, and amazement.

“Unbelievable!”

“Thank heavens that child is safe!”

Several townspeople claim a special connection with the Cavanaugh case. Some have children who went to school with Tilly. Others helped with putting up “Missing!” signs.

“I helped with the search,” one woman in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt declares.

“I did, too!” says a pock-faced teenager.

The businessman next to him rubs his palms together, saying, “A group of us tromped through the woods for hours and hours, but didn’t find a scrap of evidence.”

Backs are patted and hands are shaken as people share their stories and move toward the exits. Everyone is buzzing except for the tall man in the back who calls himself Duke. He has been standing very still, listening closely and thinking about damage control.

A white-haired woman with a cane squints up at him. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she exclaims. “Now that poor little Cavanaugh girl will be able to spend Thanksgiving at home with her family.”

Duke tips his head slightly. “Yes ma’am.” He turns to go, exiting the double doors just behind the meddlesome woman who has ruined everything.

He’s close enough that he could easily reach out and touch her. He imagines sliding his big, square hands under her shiny hair and seizing her scrawny neck. He savors the idea as they move down the wide front steps. Then the real estate agent pivots away, and he strolls along, watching as her high heels click down the sidewalk.

Duke slows to light a cigarette, keeping her in his line of sight. Half a block farther along, she lifts her keys to click open the doors of an amber-colored Lexus. He watches her climb in and fasten her seatbelt. As the engine turns over and she backs out, he makes a mental note of the license plate number, then turns and heads toward his SUV.

He climbs behind the wheel, sparks the ignition, cracks a window, checks his mirrors, and pulls into traffic. Heavy gray clouds are threatening rain. But as he heads toward home, he isn’t thinking about the weather. Instead, he’s wondering how to deal with Randy Vanderholt, now that the fool has gotten himself arrested. And he’s worrying about the secrets that sweet little Tilly might spill.

THREE

San Francisco

“Now, your father has a new love interest,” Dr. Lerner says slowly, “and you said your sister and her husband will be there for Thanksgiving.”

Reeve sits on the sofa, stroking the little dog’s head, sensing that her psychiatrist is about to shift from safer topics to more tender areas. “But that’s not a problem anymore,” she tells him. “My sister has become super- mom. She’s way too involved with her family to worry about me.”

“Oh?”

“Really. No problemo. And the baby is so cute, he’s like a gurgling ambassador for world peace.”

“So you’re feeling more comfortable than last year?”

She rolls her eyes. “They’re still going to bug me about the usual stuff, when I’m getting a boyfriend, all that. It’s unavoidable.” A shift in posture unsettles Bitsy, who moves away and begins licking a paw. Annoyed, Reeve continues, “But who cares? You said yourself that having a romantic involvement is not necessarily an indication of improvement and that I shouldn’t rush into some kind of relationship just to prove to myself that I can, right?”

She knows he has heard the strained way she has paraphrased him, and expects him to respond, but when he doesn’t, she gives a shrug and admits, “Okay, so I’m defensive.”

“This is an emotionally charged issue for you. That’s more than understandable.”

“Right.”

“And there are good reasons for you to feel defensive.”

“Exactly.” She thinks about her scars and feels the heat flushing up her neck. “Besides, who’s to say that the ‘normal’ male/female relationship will work for me, anyway? I know everyone talks about having a healthy sex life, but even on the off chance that I met someone I liked, and even if he liked me, how could I even begin to try to explain everything? So, what’s wrong with being asexual? It’s so much simpler.”

“There’s nothing wrong with remaining celibate if that’s your choice, but what you just said is contradictory, isn’t it?”

Her eyes narrow. “What do you mean?”

“On the one hand, you’re expressing a desire for connection, and on the other, you’re saying you want to remain asexual because it’s too hard to work out a relationship. Do you see that contradiction?”

She fidgets, kneading the numb patch on her left hand. “Okay, so what’s wrong with that?”

“If it makes you frustrated or angry—”

“Then I have unresolved feelings,” she says curtly. “Yeah, I know.”

Bitsy shakes herself, jumps to the floor, and crosses the room to curl up beside Dr. Lerner while Reeve frowns at her.

“Listen, you have worked very hard to overcome a traumatic past and reclaim your life,” Dr. Lerner says smoothly. “You can take pride in that, and you don’t need to be angry with yourself. There is no timeline.”

Reeve places her fingertips against her temples, pressing hard, as if trying to force her thoughts into place.

“But you are the one who is having difficulty connecting with others,” he continues, “and you are the one judging yourself for it, don’t you see?”

“Okay, but the thing is,” she takes a breath and says carefully, “I’ve been reading some of your studies.”

“You have.” He says this as a statement, as if he knew it all along.

“The one last month in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology, for instance.”

“And?”

“And I think I’ve found myself in there.”

He sighs. “Reeve, we’ve talked about this. You know I wouldn’t write about you without your permission. My articles are based on other cases.”

“Well, but anyway, I recognized myself, okay?” “How do you mean?”

“In the part about being hypercontrolled. About being ‘locked in a phase of arrested recovery.’ ”

“Is that what you think?”

She gives a small shrug. “Don’t you?”

“Reeve, listen. That article is about a completely different situation, about a young woman who was imprisoned by her father. You were both young, you both suffered. But incest and sadism have very different psychic impacts.”

“I know all that.”

He’s watching her, and she knows that he understands what she doesn’t need to say: that even after all these years, even knowing that she is safe in San Francisco while Daryl Wayne Flint is incarcerated far away, the dark years of her captivity still linger like a bad taste. “Intellectually, I know it,” she says, glancing around at the Persian rug, the framed art.

When her gaze settles back on Dr. Lerner, he leans toward her, saying, “Reeve, I know you read the studies, and I commend you for wanting to understand more about the long-term psychological effects of captivity.” His voice is soft but heavy with emphasis. “But not everything in the literature applies to you.”

She makes a face. “The curse of being self-absorbed.” He sits quietly, watching her.

“Okay. I know. I can’t assume that every article on these subjects has bearing on my individual situation,” she says, parroting his jargon. “But I just want to stop feeling like I have this ugly part of myself that no one can possibly understand. I want to have a normal life and be a normal adult.” She glances at him and then looks away. “I know you don’t like that word, but you know what I mean.”

“Reeve, you are normal. But you’ve survived a uniquely traumatic situation. That’s no small thing, and it’s understandable if you’re still having trouble adjusting, or if you’re uncomfortable with men, or—”

“I’m comfortable with you.”

“So give yourself some credit. And relax. Because you’re still young, and you can’t let your desire for self-protection preclude you from having any new relationships for the rest of your life.”

“Why not?”

An elastic silence stretches between them. She knows this was a flip question, and that he is waiting for her to come up with her own answer. But she holds her breath, settles back on the sofa, and stubbornly says nothing.

He taps his chin with his thumb, studying her. “Okay, here’s your home- work,” he says, as he often does when their session concludes. “Think about your own personal definition of a comfortable relationship: friend or romance, asexual or bisexual or whatever. Nothing is off-limits. And if you don’t want to share the exact details with me, that’s fine. Consider it private, and consider that you are in absolute control. But give yourself permission to at least think about making a true, intimate connection with someone, even if you’re only fantasizing about it at this point. How’s that?”

“An intimate connection?” “Correct.”

“Just try to imagine it, is all?” He cocks an eyebrow.

“Okay, I guess that’s nonthreatening enough.” She looks down and sees that she has crossed her arms and legs. “I only look defensive. I’m actually a little chilled.”

Smiling, he nods once in punctuation. “Good. I’ll see you next week. And I hope you have a very nice Thanksgiving.”

“You, too.”

They’re on their feet and moving toward the door when Dr. Lerner says, “Oh, have you given any more thought to getting a cat or a dog?”

“I know you think it would be therapeutic, but I don’t need a cat or a dog. I have Persephone.”

His lips compress wryly. “And how is the lovely Persephone?” “She’s therapeutic.”

He chuckles and opens the door.

The moment they step into the hall, the receptionist hurries toward them, clasping her hands in front of her as if in prayer. “Excuse me, doctor,” she says, “but you have an unscheduled visitor.”

As the three come into the waiting room, a man wearing a crimped expression and a dark suit rises. “Dr. Lerner? I’m sorry to intrude on your schedule.”

“You’re here about Jefferson County?” Dr. Lerner steps forward to shake the man’s hand.

“I’m sorry to barge in on you like this.”

Dr. Lerner’s voice drops to a low, serious tone while Reeve dawdles near the receptionist’s desk, straining to hear. She retrieves the key to the rest- room from its place in a floral dish, stalling, but can’t make out more of the men’s conversation. At the door, she turns to glimpse them disappearing into Dr. Lerner’s office.

Out in the hallway, she passes Dr. Lerner’s usual 10:30 appointment, a redheaded teen with fantastic freckles whose name, of course, she doesn’t know.

When she returns from the restroom, the redhead is gone, and Reeve notices that the receptionist’s face is clouded with a strange expression. Her Cupid’s-bow mouth is a straight line. And as Reeve sets the key back in the dish, the receptionist looks up at her and says, “I’m terribly sorry, Miss LeClaire, but Dr. Lerner has to cancel all of next week’s appointments.”

Reeve blinks at her, realizing that this is the first time the receptionist has ever spoken her name.


Excerpted from The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton. Copyright © 2013 by Carla Norton. First published 2013 by St. Martin’s Press, New York. This edition published in Great Britain 2013 by Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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