New York Daily News
“Johnston warms your heart and tickles your fancy.”
Gavin Talbot had just stepped off the elevator and started down the hall of the pediatric wing of Houston Regional Hospital, when he thought he heard someone sobbing in the linen closet. He stopped and stared at the closed door. It was nearly midnight, and Gavin had decided he was so tired he was delusional, when he heard the sound again. Definitely sobbing. Female sobbing.
Gavin rapped his knuckles twice on the linen closet door. “Is somebody in there?”
“Go away,” a tear-choked voice replied.
Gavin wished he were interning as a heart surgeon or an orthopedist. Those exhausted physiciancs wouldn’t have had any trouble walking away. But he was studying to become a child psychologist, and he knew a cry for help when he heard one.
“Hey,” he said. “Maybe I can help.”
“No one can help,” the tear-choked voice replied.
“How about opening the door?”
“Go away and leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that. Look, it’s late. Why not have a cup of coffee with me in the cafeteria? Maybe we can work things out.”
“You don’t even know what the problem is!” an exasperated voice replied.
“I’m a good listener,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me?”
Absolute silence. He figured she was thinking about it. Gavin said nothing, just waited patiently and was rewarded when the door inched open and a swollen-eyed, tearstained face peeked out.
“How do I know you’re not a serial killer?”
He held his hands wide, letting her get a good look at the wrinkled blue oxford-cloth shirt, the sleeves casually folded up to reveal muscular forearms, and the frayed, belted Levi’s he wore to make the kids he worked with feel more comfortable. “No gun, no knife, not even a needle. My name’s Gavin Talbot. I’m working at the hospital on a research grant.”
She opened the linen closet door wider, but hesitated on the threshold. He noticed her should-length blond hair was cut in a fringe around her face, and she had pale, red-rimmed gray eyes that looked as desolate as any of the dying children he had ever counseled at the hospital.
Her shapeless dress was topped by a white hospital lab coat, identifying her as a medical student, and Gavin made an informed—and intuitive—guess about her situation.
Medical students were notoriously overworked and under tremendous stress to perform at high levels, and fatigue and depression were common. She fit the profile. Dark circles played under her eyes, and her short frame was so delicate she looked fragile, like she would break if he were to hold her in his strong arms.
“I’m R. J. Whitelaw,” she said, extending her hand. It held a wadded-up Kleenex. She quickly stuffed the tissue into her lab coat pocket and extended the hand again.
Gavin swallowed her small hand in his and was startled by her firm grip. It conveyed confidence and self-assurance; there was nothing the least bit fragile about it. “It’s nice to meet you, R.J.,” he said. “I know some Whitelaws, Zach and Rebecca. They own a ranch in northwest Texas called Hawk’s Pride. Any relation?”
Her lips curved in a wobbly smile that cracked as she broke down and sobbed, “My pare-hents.”
“I don’t recognize R.J. as one of their kids’ names,” he said.
She groped for her Kleenex, and he handed her the hanky from his back Levi’s pocket. “Try this.”
“Tha-hanks,” she said, then blew her nose noisily.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
Her brow wrinkled as she rubbed at her reddened nose. “Should I?”
“We spoke on the phone. Your sister Jewel asked me to get in touch with you after I spent last summer as a counselor at Camp LittleHawk.
“Oh, no!” Her gray eyes filled to the brim with tears that quickly spilled over. “You ca-han’t tell her you saw me li-hike this.”
“I promise not to do that,” Gavin said, taking Rolleen’s arm and heading her toward the cafeteria. “Let’s go get that coffee and find a quiet place to talk.”