Abigael Gallant fought her way back from her ex-husband’s brutal
attack that killed their daughter and left her blind. Now she
“reads” audio books, runs with a guide at a local track, and has a thriving practice that specializes in treating the newly disabled.
The last thing she needs is another man in her life.
Read an Excerpt
Helen Keller Alliance
Every morning, Abby ran her fingers over the cluster of raised dots on the sign outside her office door.
Dr. Abigael Gallant, Psychologist.
Above, serif letters spelled the same thing. She opened the door. “Morning, Cleo.”
“Morning, Abby. Got everything ready for you.”
“You always do.” She sniffed. “Morning, Ellie.”
“How do you always know I’m here?”
“I know.” The too-sweet scent of her intern’s perfume wafting in the air almost drowned out the rich aroma of coffee bubbling into the pot. Abby went into her office, unhooked Daisy’s halter—giving her guide dog a neck rub—and settled at her desk. Cleo brought her a cup of coffee. “Thanks. What would I do without you?”
“You’d do it all by yourself like you did before you hired me.”
“But you make it so much easier.”
“First appointment at nine,” Cleo said. “New patient. Luke McCallister. Cop. Sergeant Dykstra said he has issues. It’s all in the report.”
Abby flipped the crystal on her watch to finger the time. “Okay, I’ve read it, but I’ll go over the information to refresh my memory.” Cleo left and Abby got to work, reading the Braille printout of Hub City detective Luke McCallister’s file. He’d lost his hearing in the line of duty, and issues was putting it mildly.
Half an hour later, Ellie knocked on the door. She came close to Abby’s desk and whispered. “McCallister’s here, and he’s a hunk.”
“Thanks for letting me know. Ask him if he’d mind waiting while I take a quick shower, change my clothes, and refresh my lipstick.”
“Show him in. Oh, and, Ellie, stop panting. You sound like a teenage boy in heat.”
Abby didn’t hear McCallister’s footsteps because he started speaking long before he reached the patient’s chair.
“Well,” he said, “put the two of us together and we have one Helen Keller.”
She breathed in the scent of sandalwood, and her highly-tuned antennae picked up on the nervous quiver in his words, even though the detective tried to conceal it with sarcasm.
She followed McCallister’s voice and faced in his direction. “Have a seat, Detective. I assume you read lips.”
The leather seat cushion whooshed as he sat. “Read ’em, been known to kiss a few.”
Arrogant SOB. This is going to be a long hour. She moved to the chair opposite McCallister, offering her best nice-to-meet-you smile. “We’ll stay with the reading for now.” She wanted to say she never kissed on a first consultation, but the ethically questionable response would probably give this patient the wrong idea. “Do you have any hearing at all?”
“None at normal decibels. I would hear enough of a siren to know one is wailing, feel the vibration from a loud noise, but that’s about it.”
Because she specialized in counseling the disabled, she knew a good lip reader took in the whole face. She enunciated her words. “I’m pretty good at following sounds, but you’ll need to tell me if I’m not facing you correctly. Ask me to repeat anything you don’t understand, okay?”
“Fine, thanks. My speech reading instructor said I was her quickest study, but I still understand only about forty percent. I fudge the rest. Sometimes I tune out, or if a person talks fast or turns away, I’m lost. It’s frustrating as hell. But if I can’t keep up or miss something, I’ll ask you to repeat.”
“Forty percent is better than good.”
“It still means I miss sixty percent.”
“We’ll work this out, and I can always write down anything you don’t understand. Now, your sergeant said you weren’t happy about counseling.”
He shifted in his seat. “I’m fighting hard to stay in the department. If I didn’t agree to see the shrink my bosses recommended, they’d have reason to can me.”
An honest response. “So, will this be a battle of wills or a forced collaboration? I say ‘forced’ because I’m used to working with people who want what I have to offer.”
Silence. Did he misinterpret her words or was he debating another smart-ass answer? She’d treated macho types before. Many relegated therapy to the weak-minded and struggled to adjust when faced with a life-altering disability. She waved her hand in the air. “Hel-lo. You haven’t slipped out on me yet, have you?”
“I thought you people could hear better. You didn’t hear me leave, did you?”
“We people hear better than you, but I’m not Superwoman. I suppose if you wanted to escape, you could sneak out and I wouldn’t know.”
“Ah, but then you’d report me, and I’d be out on my ass.”
Abby stifled a smile. “Your choice.”
“What does your voice sound like?”
She wondered if a little humor might help to connect. “Deep and husky. Bacall talking to Bogie.”
He discharged a throaty laugh. “I remember that. Something about teaching him how to whistle. Put your lips together and … blow, wasn’t it?”
The heat rose on Abby’s face from the sexual implication of McCallister’s tone. This man took pleasure in penetrating her professional façade. “Something to that effect, yes.”
“Okay, you win. I give up.”
“This isn’t a win-lose game, Detective. You leave, you lose.” She raised a small recorder. “If you agree, I’ll record this session. It’s the way I take notes. You see, we both have to make adjustments.” He didn’t argue. “I could ask you questions, but I’d rather you tell me how you felt after you learned you were deaf. How you still feel.”
More shifting, a tongue click, a deep breath, a long exhalation. She waited.
“I was blindsided, totally unprepared.” He hesitated. “Sorry, bad allusion.”
“It’s a perfect allusion. I know exactly how that feels, maybe better than you.”
After a moment of silence, he said, “Yeah, I guess you do.”
“Let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m not big on political correctness. I don’t tippy-toe around the facts or use words like visually impaired or audibly challenged. I’m blind, you’re deaf. Continue.”
“I didn’t get all that, but enough. You’re blind, I’m deaf. No tippy-toeing.”
Silently chastising herself, she said, “Sorry. I’ll speak slower.”
“Don’t worry about it. I got the gist of what you said. Now, where was I? Right, how I felt.” He paused for a long moment. “I thought when I recovered I could go back to my old job. Instead, the brass assigned me to the damn computer—AFIS, tracking searches, stuff like that.”
“Automated Fingerprint Identification System. I’m a street cop, Dr. Gallant. I don’t do well sitting behind a desk.”
“You’re a liability on the street. You have to know that. You wouldn’t want me on the road driving a car, would you?”
“Is it? Lives are at stake in both situations.”
McCallister went into another prolonged silence as if he were thinking of the perfect response. Usually a patient’s long pause preceded a significant confession. Just tell the truth, McCallister.
“You know, this is a mistake,” he said. “I’m not comfortable opening up to a stranger.”
She heard him rise.
“In fact, I’m not comfortable opening up to anyone.”
She didn’t want to lose him. How could she make him see that his job, maybe his future, depended on at least giving the first session his best shot? “What you say won’t leave this room. I offer my professional opinion after we complete our sessions. If you can’t continue, I’ll send the report, and you can deal with your superiors.” He didn’t walk to the door. Then she heard the cushion whoosh again as he sat.
“I got enough of what you said to know I’m screwed either way, aren’t I?”
“Like I said, your choice.” She waited a good three minutes. After a deep sigh he started.
“At first, I didn’t believe the
doctors. I thought one morning I’d wake up to the sounds around me, but that
didn’t happen. Between the silence and tinnitus buzzing in my ears I thought I’d
go out of my mind. I couldn’t read anyone, couldn’t respond, because I didn’t
know who said what. I tried to swallow my anger because I hate whiners, but it
gnawed in my gut until I thought I’d explode.”
Good. That’s a start. “Your file says you’re divorced. Did the injury have anything to do with your divorce?”
“I’m here about my job, Doctor, not my marriage.” His tone took on a hard-edge. “After I lost my hearing, I wasn’t the same man my wife married. She deserved better. I’m not proud of it.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. “Do you think you’re less of a man because you’re deaf?”
This time she sensed his silent isolation. The quiet, always louder to her than to most, echoed off the walls.
After a while, he spoke. “Yes. I do.”
“And does my blindness make me any less a woman?”
Before he could answer, Daisy got up from behind the desk, stretched, and sauntered to the water bowl. She slurped for half a minute, then burrowed her drooling head into her mistress’ lap, greedy for affection. Abby scratched Daisy’s ears, rubbed her neck, and settled her down.
“Is she how you get around?”
“She’s my eyes, yes.”
“You need to look at me. You looked toward the dog and I couldn’t see what you said.”
She was really screwing up with this patient. She faced in his direction, pictured him focused on her lips. “Yes, Daisy’s my eyes.”
“A question, Detective McCallister. Have you considered a cochlear implant?”
“A gun shot off near my ear during the take-down of a meth lab. Most of the auditory nerve fibers were destroyed, making the effectiveness of an implant questionable. I’m still seeing specialists.”
“I wouldn’t give up. Improvements are being made every day.”
“When I learned about this session, I researched you. Your résumé’s impressive.”
She ignored the personal reference. Some patients used the ploy to shift focus. “Quite a résumé yourself, especially your anti-drug work with kids in the projects.”
“Don’t tell me the dog reads too.”
Abby smiled at the image. “She’s pretty amazing, but no. I have a screen reader program on my computer that audibly reads what’s on the screen, then I print it on a Braille embosser. It’s the blind equivalent of texting.” Back to you, Detective.
“It’s weird to carry a phone I can’t hear, but texting keeps me connected.”
“Because technology has opened new worlds for the disabled, and a deaf patient who can’t speak can text me, and my phone converts the text to speech. This was unheard of years back. I can hardly keep up with the advances.”
“I’m big on email, too.” McCallister hesitated. “This is a new world for me, and if I’m being honest I’m not sure I’m up to it.”
McCallister’s revealing admission took Abby by surprise. She expected an hour’s tug of war, but by session’s end, he’d allowed some barriers to tumble. She fingered her watch. One more probing question. “What’s been your darkest thought, Detective?”
He paused, but not for long.
“Eating my gun.”
* * * * *
Ellie breezed through the door as soon as McCallister left. “Well, what did you think?”
Abby’s fingertips skimmed the Braille printout of her next patient. She lifted her head in Ellie’s direction. “About what?”
“You know, about Mr. Gorgeous.”
“He’s a patient, Ellie, off limits except for therapy. Besides, I have only your word he’s good looking, not that it makes a difference.”
“I didn’t say good looking. He’s better than that. Wait a minute.” She called to the outer office, “Cleo, come here. Tell Abby what Detective McCallister looks like.”
Abby wanted to stop this discussion, but Cleo’s rolling chair moved back, and she entered the office. “Hunky. Six feet plus, cerulean eyes, and a body Calvin Klein would photograph in his tiniest bikini briefs.”
“You must have x-ray vision to get that picture,” Abby said. “And cerulean? Good thing you weren’t paying attention. Dare I ask if he had any birthmarks?” She shuffled some papers to determine their order. “Anyway, I couldn’t care less. He’s a patient. It wouldn’t matter if he were a Greek god or Quasimodo; I wouldn’t know the difference. Stop trying to fix me up. You both know strict rules apply between therapist and patient.”
Ellie leaned in close. “You need a man in your life, Abby, and this guy is all man.”
A wave of sadness hit Abby as she thought back to the man who’d changed her life so irrevocably. “I’ve had a man in my life. One was enough, thank you.” She could almost sense the exchange of raised eyebrows and shrugs. “Now, can we get our minds off men’s butts and get back to business?”
“You still didn’t tell me what you thought of him.”
The last hour had generated a few silences, and now Abby contributed one more. She found Luke McCallister interesting, no question. The description of his looks meant nothing. No longer influenced by appearances, she found the tone of a voice and the inflections of a person’s words revealed more than any visual. The cop showed a better grasp of his problems than most, but knowing them solved only part of the dilemma. She needed to convince him he still had value, even if in a different capacity than before he lost his hearing.
“I thought of him only as a patient,” Abby said, answering Ellie’s question. “Anything else would be inappropriate.”
But Detective McCallister isn’t quite ready to face the facts of his life, and I don’t want to be anywhere near him when the volcano erupts.