Hand of Women
Haddie made plans to meet Sarah for lunch, hardly caring about the drive. They remained in contact, mostly on Facebook, but would still meet to catch up on a deeper level. The conversation Haddie planned on having was worthy of a meal and a face-to-face discussion.
Arriving at the bistro early, Haddie ordered a peach tea and rolled her idea around in her head. When life doled out its hard knocks, Sarah seemed to be near the beginning of the line every time, most of them dished by men. On the surface, her life seemed great. One would have to look closely to see how the fissures were held together by Band-Aids.
Haddie watched as Sarah entered the quaint luncheon shop, slipping her sunglasses atop her head as she searched for her. A wave of her hand caught Sarah’s attention, and she smiled at Haddie as she weaved through the red wrought iron tables.
“Hey, girl. I was so glad you called. I could use some adult time.”
Haddie smiled knowingly, familiar with the stress of Sarah’s long shifts on top of being the mom of a freshman and a junior in high school, deciding to start her family later in life. “It was time, don’t you think? It’s been a while.”
Sarah winced. “That’s probably my fault. I’ll be better…I promise.”
Haddie waved off her comment, knowing how crazy her life could get. “You’re here and that’s all that matters.”
After they both ordered a salad and decided to split an Italian roast beef sandwich, they settled into their conversation.
“How’s the hospital going? I know it can get crazy.”
“Tell me about it — we’re down a nurse, and I can’t believe we haven’t hired his replacement yet.”
“Longer days for you?”
“More like more shifts for me.” Sarah sipped on the water that the server placed in front of her. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be busy. I just wish it wasn’t right now. The girls have so much going on with school.”
One of her girls was on the swim team while the other played soccer. Haddie knew Sarah ran in circles attempting to keep up with them. When Haddie remembered why she was there, her uneasiness caused her to chomp on the side of her index finger. “Not much help from Dwayne?”
An exaggerated roll of the eyes told Haddie what she already surmised — Dwayne was simply another child, never having much interest in holding down a job. Lots of households had the dynamic of mom working while dad stayed home with the kids. But Dwyane spent his time playing video games, leaving most of the household chores and homework schedules for Sarah to deal with. Haddie knew this, but hoped maybe he had grown up. Apparently not.
During a lull in the conversation, Sarah asked, “Are you okay?”
After a stagnant pause, Haddie decided to jump in and put everything out in the open. “How are things at the hospital, Sarah? Really.”
Sarah’s brow scrunched in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Looking down at her plate, Haddie reached up to fiddle with the silverware in front of her, slanting the knife along the top of her plate. She couldn’t think about taking another bite of her chef salad, her stomach tied up in knots. “I mean, you’re usually complaining about how some of the doctors talk down to the nurses. Is it still like that?”
Sarah shrugged. “Depends on the day and the doctor. It’s all part of the job, I guess.”
“It shouldn’t have to be. Don’t they realize they’d be lost without you guys?”
Sarah leaned in closer, folding and pressing her forearms onto the edge of the table. “What are you getting at?”
Haddie knew she had to be careful, about to dredge up Sarah’s past. It wasn’t right, she knew it, but it simply had to be done if she were to get Sarah on board. “I mean…don’t they remind you of, say, the Dr. Hiltons of the world?”
Sarah’s complexion paled, her mouth falling open at the mention of her former professor. Clutching her chest, she yanked on the material of her shirt, the cotton twisting in her fingers. Haddie felt horrible, her mouth becoming dry. Still, she wasn’t about to back down now. Haddie would never forget the night Sarah confessed what Dr. Hilton had made her do, holding his power over her like a wielded sword, ready to slice her dreams of becoming a nurse into tiny pieces. Sarah was completely ashamed, begging Haddie not to tell a soul, as she recounted what took place in the good Doctor’s office.
“Why on earth would you bring that up, Haddie?” Her words were slathered in shock, spoken in a pained whisper. And, yes, Haddie could still see the shame in her eyes — and that’s all it took, her disgust for that man driving her toward what she came there for.
“Because what he did needs to be brought to light — not only for you, but for all the other young girls he did that to.”
Haddie detected a sheen in Sarah’s eyes, almost regretting her crazy plan. She knew it would be hardest with people she was close to. Reaching out to strangers, weirdly, would be so much easier. Kind of like sharing a secret. Wasn’t it easier to tell a stranger something dark about yourself versus someone you love? Yes, it was.
“How, exactly? I’d put that behind me, Haddie.”
“Aren’t you sick of it, Sarah? Having to live in a world with men like Hilton always trying to put us in our place? Thinking they’re the superior sex, thumping their chests like Neanderthals, dominating women like we’re nothing more than sexual objects put on this earth for their sick, perverse pleasure?”
Haddie saw the moment when Sarah’s shame morphed to anger, her gaze narrowing, her breaths becoming unequivocally noticeable. She knew how Sarah had been raised, her father always putting her down for her feminine traits, wondering why she couldn’t be more like her brothers. Because she was a girl, for Christ sake! Sarah possessed all the lovely qualities that she admired in people. Caring. Loving. Nurturing. Patience. Those characteristics weren’t flaws — they were admirable — especially in men.
“I hate that man.” The four words that left Sarah’s lips were spoken with pure venom, surprising Haddie. She had never seen this side of her; she was usually so upbeat and sunshiny. But Haddie realized this is what she needed — Sarah’s vengeful side. Everyone had one, some were just more buried than others.
Haddie grinned, leaning her face toward the middle of the table.
“Then help me do something about it.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a prepaid cell phone, sliding it across the table toward Sarah.
It had taken a couple of weeks to put her plan into motion. First, she studied the habits of Dr. Hilton, stalking him like some washed-out detective, even making the two-hour drive to South Miami Heights to do so. Haddie found the task to be nerve wracking, wondering how people did it for a living.
He swam at a community pool just blocks from his home every day. Haddie wondered why he would do that when most people living in Florida already had one in their backyards. But when Haddie saw the Olympic-sized pool, she understood. He seemed to prefer the marked lanes.
Dr. Hilton was the true definition of everything she loathed in a man. Condescending. Narcissistic. Cheater. Preying on younger women for sexual favors in return for a high mark in his class — back when he still taught.
Haddie was more than happy to do this for Sarah, but she needed her help with retrieving useful information. It just so happened that Sarah worked in the hospital where one might be transported from, say, the community pool. Since Dr. Hilton was older, Haddie was concerned when her data claimed a more severe reaction to her concoction. She needed to be sure from the inside, simply as a backup, especially since she didn’t have anything concrete on Jim yet. That might require another trip back to campus.
And there she was — in the women’s locker room at the community pool, her heart racing wildly as she waited for the woman behind her to leave. What was she waiting for? Grab your towel and go. Finally, she did.
Haddie attempted to slow her breathing as she reached for the skin-colored, latex glove she’d purchased online, knowing what the substance applied beneath the protected paper was potentially capable of, hoping to have some medical feedback if things went as she thought they might.
Before she could chicken out, Haddie shoved her hand into the glove, carefully removing the paper over the sap. Holding her hand palm facing down, she draped her towel over it and walked out of the locker room, reminding her of not too long ago doing the same thing with her cardigan sweater.
She was about to put on the show of a lifetime.
Haddie hung back at the entrance to the pool, her eyes searching for Dr. Hilton. When she spotted him climbing out, using the ladder on the far end, she paced the hallway a bit, knowing his routine. He normally dried himself off then wrapped his towel around his neck, allowing it to hang down his chest. Always taking his phone with him, for some reason, he’d sit on one of the vacant benches, his fingers scrolling the screen as he caught his breath.
When he finally stood, his hands clutching the ends of his towel, Haddie knew that was her cue, pushing through the glass door with her unoccupied hand. As he approached her, his eyes scanned the entire length of her body. Haddie stopped in front of him. “Dr. Hilton?”
A flash of pleasure shot across his face. “Yes?”
Haddie laughed like a twit, tapping him on the arm. “I’m Laura Smith. Well, back in college it was Tully. I was in your microbiology class,” she lied, merely making up the name. There was no way he’d remember every female student he ever taught.
Dr. Hilton smiled, loving the attention. “Yes. Yes. How are you?” he asked, pretending to remember her when he had never even met her. His eyes intently wandered to her chest, Haddie knowing the years hadn’t changed him a bit, although time hadn’t spared him physically. His tanned skin boasted sagging wrinkles, the hair on his chest entirely white, causing her to wonder if he was older than she figured him to be.
“Oh, you know. Hanging in there. I’m a nurse at North View…in the labor and delivery.”
“Good for you. Glad to hear it.”
Haddie’s chest tightened as panic settled in, and she didn’t know what else to say. Delicately switching hands beneath the draped towel, she clutched the back of his bicep with her gloved hand, giving it a gentle squeeze holding it in place. “It was so nice to see you, Dr. Hilton. I’ll let you get on with your day.”
The man didn’t think anything of it, probably basking in the former glory of his teaching days, smiling at her as she walked on past. “Nice to see you, too.”
Haddie walked slowly, buying herself some time to allow Dr. Hilton to leave. There were only two other people in the pool, oblivious of their surroundings as they splashed about with their faces buried in water, so Haddie seated herself on the same bench that Dr. Hilton had previously vacated, willing her limbs to stop shaking. When she looked up, he was no longer there.
She had done it.
Carefully, she turned the glove inside out as she slipped it off her hand, wadding it inside her blue beach towel, and watched the swimmers as if she were in a trance.
All there was left to do was wait.