Erin is in the psychiatric ward
That's what her mother had said. Annabelle didn't let herself think about it. Not yet. She didn't have enough information to start going off the deep end. One of us has to stay calm, she thought. Here she was, at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, after driving from Raleigh-Durham Airport through a storm-darkened day which matched her mood. The huge building stood cold and spare. People came here for help, yet it seemed to Annabelle a heartless place. She pulled her too-light windbreaker around her to ward off the wind and dashed for the automatic doors.
People littered the area like discarded candy wrappers. The buzz of whispered conversations filled the air. Skirting the oversized potted palms, Annabelle approached the information desk sprawled in the middle of the lobby.
The elderly volunteer looked up from a supermarket tabloid. The Weekly Investigator, Annabelle noted with approval.
"May I help you?" the volunteer asked.
"My sister, Erin Tinker, is a patient. Can you tell me where to find her?"
"Certainly. How's that spelled?" The woman bent her blue hair toward the computer screen in front of her, hunting and pecking the last name, T-I-N-K-E-R. Instead of the six strokes it usually took, with all the backspacing and correcting it took more like twenty. Finally, the woman looked up.
"I'll need some identification, please. A driver's license will do."
Annabelle breathed a sigh. Here it came, she thought, as she pulled her wallet from her jacket pocket. After a moment's digging, she handed over her driver's license.
"Umm, let's see, Miss Tinker." The volunteer glanced up, her old eyes twinkling.
Okay, okay, get it over with. Annabelle pasted a smile she hoped was tolerant on her lips.
"Annabelle Tinker? That's just so darling! How imaginative. You aren't a fairy in disguise, are you?" The old woman gave the license back.
"No," Annabelle said, wishing for the millionth time Walt Disney had never learned to draw.
"Here's your pass, dear. Clip it to your blouse while you're in the hospital. That way the brute squad won't toss you out." The woman smiled and waved her hand toward the back of the lobby. "Take that elevator right there to the eleventh floor, and when you get off turn right. Your sister's in Room 1135."
"Thank you." Annabelle took the pass and turned toward the elevators. Eleventh floor? Were they crazy putting crazy people on the eleventh floor? What if someone tried to jump?
She squashed the concern. It was none of her business if they put the psych ward on the roof. She had all she could handle taking care of her mother and sister.
The elevator's electronic voice announced the eleventh floor and Annabelle got off, turning right as the receptionist had instructed.
"Darling, oh, I'm so glad you're here!"
Annabelle looked toward the voice and saw her mother coming, histrionic sails billowing.
"Mom, what happened?" She hid a wince as she realized she'd blurted out the wrong question, an open-ended one which would give her mother the opportunity to go on...and on...and on. Immediately, she tried to remedy the mistake by focusing her mother on the present.
"Why is Erin here in the psych ward?" She laid her arm around her mother's shoulders and led her to a couch in an out-of-the-way lounge, where they sat down, allowing her mother to draw a big breath.
Tamping down her impatience, Annabelle tried to remember it hadn't been that long since Dad died. Mom needed time to get used to being alone and taking care of herself. Now this.
"I don't know," Susan Tinker finally said. "Erin and Lucas left the house on Saturday night to go to a movie. The next thing I knew, it was four in the morning, and the police were banging on the door." She shivered and Annabelle hugged her closer. "Oh, I wish your Dad were alive! He'd know what to do."