“I haven’t seen Emily in three years, and you expect me to call out of the blue and ask if she would like to come out here for a long visit?” Bill’s laugh into the phone as totally devoid of humor. “No. I won’t. Are you insane? Suzette, you have come up with some wild schemes over the last twenty-five years but this one takes the cake. No, no, no, and just so we are absolutely clear, my answer is no.”
The moment Bill stopped ranting Suzette jumped in. “Let me explain, will you? I’ve never asked anything like this before, and I wouldn’t ask for this favor now unless I had a good reason.”
Bill heard the note of desperation in Suzette’s voice and it worried him. He stuck the paint-loaded brush in a nearby container of thinners. It gave him a moment to think. “Okay. I can’t think of anything that would make me change my mind, but please feel free to try.”
Suzette breathed into the phone for several moments before sighing loudly. “Three weeks ago Emily had been over-the-top with excitement about being hired as a physician for the Murfreesboro Medical Center, but last weekend she came to Mom and Dad’s for a visit and has been holed up in her old childhood bedroom ever since. Not once has she said anything about returning to her own apartment in Nashville.”
Bill switched the receiver to his other ear. “That is strange, but maybe she just wants to spend some time with the family before beginning her new job. It must have been stressful finishing medical school and then jumping right into her internship at Vanderbilt.”
Suzette let out a small growl of frustration. “Normally I would agree with you, but Mom’s worried. You know she never overreacts, but she was crying when she called me yesterday. When I asked what was wrong, she told me that every night Emily wakes her and Dad by screaming bloody murder. Mom has to shake her awake before it stops. Emily claims the nightmares are caused by her being exhausted, and we might have an easier time believing that if she didn’t jump every time anyone comes near. She stares off into space for hours at a time and refuses to eat or sleep. She's also lost a lot of weight, and never laughs or smiles anymore.”
Suzette drew in a deep breath before adding, “She’s scared and hurt, and we don’t know how to help, but maybe you can. You were always the one who could get her to open up."
Bill sat on the arm of a nearby chair. His best friend’s words tore at his heart. “Stop. I get the picture.” He sighed and bowed his head. It crushed him to think that his Emily could be in so much pain. “I’ll do whatever you ask.” He stood and went to the window of his two story farm house, but even as he stared off in the direction of the corn-filled fields, none of it came into focus. Suzette’s description of Emily’s mental state was puzzling. It didn’t sound at all like the person he knew. Even as a scrawny kid, she was always so self-assured and happy. It was true, he hadn’t seen her in over three years, but in his mind’s eye he could still clearly see her sparkling, green eyes and infectious smile.
Feeling an overwhelming sense of frustration, he ran paint-streaked fingers through the long strands of his blonde hair, where they had escaped the confines of a rubber band. “It’s obvious she needs help, but are you certain I’m the right person to offer it? I always considered Emily to be a good friend, but not so much since she entered medical school. She’s changed. I’ve changed. Even if I asked, I’m not sure she would agree to come. Don’t you remember the opening night of my art exhibit in New York City? One moment we were talking, but when I turned around to answer a question from a patron, Emily disappeared without a trace. Houdini would have been proud of how fast she cleared out of there.” Her leaving without any explanation had broken his heart.
Suzette’s heavy breathing brought him back and he finally answered. “You’ll have to tell me what I need to say when I call”
The relief was evident in her voice, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Wait until I succeed. What do you want me to do?”
“You want me to lie to Emily?” Bill laughed. “You really have forgotten the most basic things about me. When have I ever been able to lie and get away with it? Ask me for anything else but that.”
Suzette’s voice remained firm. “Please. It’s just a little one.”
Bill shook his head, despite it being a wasted gesture. “You’ve known me since the first grade. It’s not in me. You’ll have to come up with a better plan.”
“Please. Tell Emily you’re having terrible headaches, and they’re so bad you can’t function. How hard is it to act like your head hurts? Even I can do that, and you know I didn't inherit any of Dad's acting ability.” There was a brief hesitation before she added, “I’ve already told Emily you were complaining about having migraines. For the first time in days she was interested in something other than whatever was bothering her. She’s concerned about you.”
Bill cleared his throat. “So, I’m supposed to tell someone with medical training I’m having migraines, and you really think Emily’s going to believe me?” He rolled his eyes but knew full well that no matter what he said, once Suzette had a plan, there was nothing he could say to change her mind. This was a disaster in the making.
“Emily isn’t her usual self so I don’t think she’ll notice you’re lying. Please, for Emily’s sake.