The Bad Daughter

The Bad Daughter

Joy Fielding


The tingling started in the pit of her stomach, a vague gnawing that quickly traveled to her chest, then spread upward and outward until it reached her neck. Invisible fingers wrapped around her throat and pressed down hard on her windpipe, cutting off her supply of oxygen, rendering her dizzy and light-headed. I’m having a heart attack, Robin thought. I can’t breathe. I’m going to die.

The middle-aged woman sitting across from her didn’t seem to notice. She was too engrossed in her own troubles. Something about an overbearing mother-in-law, a difficult daughter, and a less-than-supportive husband.

Okay, get a grip. Concentrate. The woman—what the hell was her name?—wasn’t paying her a hundred and seventy-five dollars an hour to receive a blank stare back in response. At the very least, she expected Robin to be paying attention. You didn’t go to a therapist to watch her have a nervous breakdown.

You are not having a nervous breakdown, Robin admonished herself, recognizing the familiar symptoms. This isn’t a heart attack. It is a panic attack, plain and simple. You’ve had them before. God knows you should be used to them by now.

But it’s been more than five years, she thought with her next breath. The panic attacks she used to experience on an almost daily basis were part of her past. Except the past is always with you. Isn’t that what they say?

Robin didn’t have to wonder what had brought on the sudden attack. She knew exactly what—who—was responsible. Melanie, she thought, picturing her sister, older by three years, and thinking, not for the first time, that if you removed the L from her sister’s name, it spelled “Meanie.”

A message from Melanie had been waiting on her voice mail when she’d returned to her office after lunch. Robin had listened to the message, debating whether to return the call or simply pretend she’d never received it. In the midst of her deliberations, her client had arrived. You’ll just have to wait, she’d informed her sister silently, grabbing her notepad and entering the room she reserved for counseling clients.

“Are you all right?” the woman asked her now, leaning forward in her upholstered blue chair and eyeing Robin suspiciously. “You look kind of funny.”

“Could you excuse me for just a minute?” Robin was out of her seat before the woman could answer. She returned to the smaller room off her main office and shut the door. “Okay,” she whispered, leaning against her desk with the palms of both hands, careful not to look at the phone. “Breathe. Just breathe.”

Okay, you’ve identified what’s happening. You know what caused it. All you have to do now is relax and concentrate on your breathing. You have a client in the next room waiting for you. You don’t have time for this crap. Pull yourself together. What was it her mother used to say? This too shall pass.

Except not everything passed. And if it did, it often circled back to bite you in the ass. “Okay, take deep breaths,” she counseled herself again. “Now another one.” Three more and her breathing had almost returned to normal. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

Except it wasn’t okay, and she knew it. Melanie was calling for a reason, and whatever that reason was, it wasn’t good. The sisters had barely exchanged two words since their mother died, and none at all since Robin had left Red Bluff for good after their father’s hasty remarriage. Nothing in almost six years. Not a congratulatory note after Robin graduated from Berkeley with a master’s degree in psychology, no best wishes when she’d opened her own practice the following year, not even a casual “good luck” when she and Blake had announced their engagement.

And so, two years ago, with Blake’s encouragement and support, Robin had ceased all attempts at communication with her sister. Wasn’t she always advising clients to stop banging their heads against the wall when faced with an immovable object and insurmountable odds? Wasn’t it time she followed her own sage counsel?

Of course, it was always easier to give advice than it was to take it.

And now, out of the blue, her sister was calling and leaving cryptic messages on her voice mail. Like a cancer you thought had been excised, only to have it come roaring back, more virulent than ever.

“Call me” was the enigmatic message Melanie had left, not bothering to state her name, taking for granted that Robin would recognize her voice even after all this time.

Which, of course, she had. Melanie’s voice was a hard one to get out of your head, no matter how many years had passed.

What fresh hell is this? Robin wondered, taking several more deep breaths and refusing to speculate. Experience had taught her that her imagination couldn’t compete with her reality. Not by a long shot.

She debated calling Blake, then decided against it. He was busy and wouldn’t appreciate being interrupted. “You’re the therapist,” he would tell her, his eyes wandering to a space behind her head, as if someone more interesting had just walked into view.

Pushing thoughts of Blake and Melanie out of her mind, Robin tucked her chin-length curly blond hair behind her ears and returned to the other room, forcing her lips into a reassuring smile. “Sorry about that,” she told the woman waiting, who was a first-time client and whose name Robin was still unable to recall. Emma or Emily. Something like that.

“Everything okay?” the woman asked.

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