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       Back to You, p.1

           Priscilla Glenn
Back to You

  To my family, who has supported me in everything I’ve ever wanted, thank you.

  To my test readers: Amanda Reina, Therese VonSteenburg, Daniella Leifer, Millie Morelli, Rachel Wilkins, Joanne McConnell, Kari Cieslak, Crystal Wilkins, Caryn Brogan, Grace Wilkins, Beth Poust, and Brett Sills—your feedback, advice, and encouragement have been invaluable, and I am extremely grateful for you all.

  And to my husband, who cooked dinners and changed diapers whenever I would disappear with Lauren and Michael for a while, I love you. Thank you for your endless support and reassurance.

  “It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

  —Rose Kennedy

  August 2011

  Something about this place made Lauren Monroe feel nostalgic.

  It didn’t make sense. She’d never gone to day care as a child, and never worked in a day care facility before, so she shouldn’t have been feeling reminiscent. But as she stood in the vestibule of Learn and Grow Day Care, looking at the drawings of stick figures and rainbows and suns with smiley faces, she felt a faint ache in her chest, almost like homesickness, that she couldn’t explain.

  Maybe it was just the wonder and innocence of being a kid again that she was missing.

  “Ms. Monroe?”

  She turned to see a woman standing in the doorway of the office, her blond hair pulled back into an efficient ponytail. Her outfit was casual, jeans and a T-shirt with the day care’s logo emblazoned across the front, and Lauren guessed she was probably in her mid-forties or so. But her smile made her seem almost childlike, and Lauren couldn’t help but smile in return.

  “Please, call me Lauren,” she said, walking toward the woman as she extended her hand.

  “Nice to meet you, Lauren. My name is Deborah Sayer. Come in and have a seat,” she said, stepping to the side and gesturing for Lauren to enter after they had shaken hands.

  The desk was all business: a desk calendar with meticulous handwriting, a computer, a phone, and a stack of manila folders a mile high. But the walls—the walls matched the woman she had just shaken hands with; they were a warm creamy blue, the backdrop for dozens of framed class photos. Image after image peppered the wall, pictures of children lined up as neatly as toddlers could be, smiling, laughing, holding hands, with a few proud teachers standing behind them. As the photos went on, the teachers changed and aged, and some came and went.

  But Deborah Sayer was in every one.

  “Amazing, isn’t it?” she said, nodding toward the pictures as she walked behind her desk and took a seat. “It feels like I opened this place up yesterday, and yet there are kids on that wall that are in law school right now.” She smiled fondly at the wall before she turned her attention back to Lauren.

  “So, Lauren,” she said, reaching over to the first manila folder on the pile and opening it. “You’re from Bellefonte?”

  “I’ve lived there for the past three years. I’m originally from Scranton.”

  “I have family in Scranton,” Deborah smiled. “I was just there a few weeks ago.” She looked down, eyeing the document in front of her, and from her place across the desk, Lauren could see it was her résumé. Deborah looked up, a smile lifting the corner of her mouth. “Penn State girl?”

  “Through and through.”

  “Me too,” Deborah said. “Class of eighty-seven.”

  “The professors there are amazing. I’m going back there now to get my master’s.”

  Deborah nodded, the smile still playing at her lips as she looked back down at the résumé. “So, you taught kindergarten for the past three years at Unionville Primary. Tell me about your time there. What would you say your biggest accomplishments were?”

  “Probably my biggest personal accomplishment was learning how to become a teacher,” Lauren said with a laugh. “You take all these classes on best practices and teaching methods, but you don’t really learn how to swim until you’re thrown to the sharks.” Deborah laughed, and Lauren added, “And as for professional accomplishments, while I was there I developed a literacy rubric that was adopted by the other kindergarten teachers in the district, and I also founded and headed a committee for increased parental involvement that was really successful.”

  She nodded. “I see you were heavily involved in the community. In fact,” she said, looking up as she closed the folder, “from what I see here, I have to say, for only having worked there three years, you definitely left your mark on that school.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Which brings me to the million-dollar question.”

  “Why am I no longer working there?” Lauren said.

  Deborah nodded once, a small smile on her lips.

  “I know how it looks, leaving after my third year, but I can assure you I received tenure. I would have loved to stay. I left because of my master’s degree.”

  Deborah tilted her head and Lauren continued. “I’m going for my master’s in child psychology. I guess in a way I’ve always been drawn to that field, even when I was getting my bachelor’s in primary education. But working full time as a teacher and going back to school for a master’s degree,” she trailed off, shaking her head. “I always throw one hundred percent of myself into everything I do, and there was no way I could give one hundred percent to both of those things at the same time. I took some courses this summer, and the workload was…intense, to say the least.” She exhaled a breathy laugh. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to get this degree while planning lessons and grading and evaluating students and running committees and completing all the paperwork that comes with them. Not without sacrificing my sanity anyway.”

  Deborah laughed, a musical trill, and Lauren continued. “But I couldn’t leave education, and I couldn’t stand the thought of not working with children anymore. And so here I am.

  “Don’t get me wrong,” Lauren added quickly. “I know this will be work. But it’s different than a primary school. I can devote myself to my kids fully during the day, but I’ll still be able to devote myself to my degree at night and on the weekends. I can give a hundred percent to both things.”

  Deborah looked down at the closed folder, and for a moment, the room was silent. Lauren began to wonder if perhaps she had said the wrong thing. selective amnesia when it comes to Del7 shoulder

  “You know,” Deborah finally said, taking a deep breath. “When I received your résumé, I loved you on paper.”

  Lauren swallowed, her eyes on the woman, trying to read her. “And forgive me for saying this, because it might be unprofessional… but after meeting you, I absolutely adore you.”

  Lauren exhaled heavily, a relieved laugh escaping her lips. “Oh thank God,” she said softly, and Deborah laughed.

  “What do you say we put an end to this stuffy interview process? When can you start?”

  “Really?” Lauren asked, her eyebrows in her hairline. “Just like that?”

  “You’re not that surprised, are you? I’ve already called your references. I think they wanted to put a hit out on me for stealing you.”

  Lauren laughed, blushing slightly, and Deborah continued. “You are so beyond qualified for this job, it’s ridiculous. And I can sense your passion for kids, your passion for what you do. You’ll be a perfect fit here.”

  “Wow, thank you so much,” Lauren said. “I don’t know what to say.”

  Deborah quirked her brow and Lauren added quickly, “No, no! I mean I know what to say. The answer is yes. Yes, I want the job.”

  “Wonderful,” Deborah said as she pushed back her chair and stood. “Why don’t you come back tomorrow? We’ll walk you through some of our procedures in the morning, and then w
e’ll just throw you to the sharks and see if you can swim,” she added with a wink.

  “That sounds perfect,” Lauren said, standing and extending her hand. “Really Mrs. Sayer, thank you so much.”

  “Call me Deb,” she said. “I look forward to having you on staff.”

  “You got it?” Lauren’s mother squealed into the phone. “That’s wonderful! Oh, honey, I’m so proud of you! When do you start?”

  “Tomorrow,” Lauren said, glancing in her rearview mirror before switching lanes to make the right turn onto East Bishop Street.

  “Well, good luck, but you won’t need it. Daddy and I will be sending you good vibes.”

  “Thanks Mom,” Lauren laughed. “Okay, I gotta go. I’m pulling into the chiropractor’s office.”

  “Is today your first appointment?”

  “Yes,” Lauren said, and she knew her mother would be able to detect the anxiety in her voice.

  “You’ll be fine, Laur. These doctors are trained professionals, and you said he got a good recommendation, right?”


  “You’ll feel so much better afterward, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this years ago.”

  “I’m sure you’re right,” Lauren said, cutting the engine.

  “Call me later tonight, let me know how it goes, okay?”

  “Alright. Love you, Mom. Talk soon.”

  “Love you too. Bye-bye.”

  Lauren ended the call and took a deep breath, tying her dark auburn hair back into a ponytail as she glanced out of the window at the office building.

  She really, really didn’t want to do this.

  She’d had issues with her back ever since she was a teenager, but being a gymnast always came with injuries. It was never so bad that she couldn’t perform or compete; it was just something she had to pay a little extra attention to every now and then. Occasionally it would spasm, but after a few days of rest and stretching, she’d be as good as new.

  Lately, however, that wasn’t the case. It took her longer to recover from the spasms, and it took less and less to set them off. Lauren had always been intimidated by chiropractors; the idea of letting someone move her spine around was very daunting, and up until now, she had avoided it. But she had read an article the other day about degenerative spinal disorders and how a common cause was untreated back injuries, and that was enough to scare her straight.

  One of the girls in her class this summer had recommended her chiropractor, Dr. Adam Wells. She said he worked wonders and was friendly and comforting, and she promised he would put her at ease immediately.

  If he can pull that off, Lauren thought, it will be an impressive feat.

  She exited the car and walked into the office, giving the receptionist her name and her insurance card. In turn, she was given a packet of about twenty pages that she needed to fill out with her personal information.

  When Lauren was just about done, one of the technicians came out to get her and led her back to the room where they’d be taking her x-rays.

  “I’m going to need you to stand here, feet shoulder-width apart, arms out at your sides,” the girl said monotonously, her face expressionless. Lauren did as she was told, thinking that if Dr. Wells was anything like this girl, she was going to hightail it out of there.

  “Are you pregnant?” the girl asked suddenly.

  Lauren’s arms dropped back to her sides. “Excuse me?”

  “Are you pregnant? We can’t do this if you are.” The girl cracked her gum, waiting for an answer.

  “No, I’m not pregnant.”

  The girl nodded, giving her the once-over and said, “I’m going to ask one more time. It’s important that you’re honest. Are you pregnant?”

  “And I’m going to give you the same answer I just gave you. I’m. Not. Pregnant,” she said slowly, enunciating each word.

  The girl snapped her gum. “Arms out,” she said before she pressed a button on the machine and left the room.

  After the x-rays, she came back in and brusquely informed Lauren that Dr. Wells would be with her in a minute and instructed her to go back to the waiting room.

  And Lauren went back to the waiting room, grabbed her things, and headed toward the exit.

  “Lauren Monroe?”

  She had her hand on the doorknob, and she closed her eyes. So close, she thought before she righted her expression and turned to see a man standing there in dark blue scrubs. If he hadn’t been wearing them, she would never have assumed he was the doctor. He looked more like a university soccer player with his tousled blond hair and beguiling grin.

  “Yes,” she said somewhat sheepishly.

  “Dr. Wells,” he said. “Were you about to stand me up?”

  “No, no, I was just…” She stopped as his grin grew wider, and she dropped her shoulders in defeat. “I was about to stand you up.”

  He laughed “I appreciate your honesty. Do you think you might give me a few minutes, though? If after that you still want to bail, you can have a friend call you with a fake emergency. Or excuse yourself to the bathroom and escape through the window.”

  Lauren tried not to smile. “It sounds like you’ve been stood up a lot.”

  “Who, me? No, that’s just what I’ve heard happens.”

  Lauren laughed, and he stepped to the side, sweeping his hand toward the door behind him. “Nothing scary yet. We’re just going to talk, okay?”

  She nodded. “Okay,” she said, taking a tentative step toward him.

  He allowed her to go first, and when they entered the office, he pulled the chair out for her before he walked around his desk and sat down.

  As he began flipping through the papers on the clipboard, reading her information, Lauren glanced around the office, looking at his medical certificates and awards.

  “How long have you been a doctor?”

  He looked up at her from under his lashes before he smiled. “There better not be a Doogie Howser comment coming.” Lauren felt her cheeks turn red as he added, “I’m thirty, by the way.”

  “I didn’t mean that to be insulting—”

  “It’s okay,” he smiled before he turned his attention back to her packet. “I know I look young. It makes some people nervous, but I promise you, you’re in good hands.”

  Lauren waited quietly for another minute before he closed the packet and looked up. “So, talk to me a little bit about your pain.”

  Lauren explained her issues, stemming back to her days as a gymnast, and he nodded and jotted notes down on her chart, sometimes asking for further clarification or stopping to explain a technical term to her. After a few minutes, he slid her packet into a file folder and pushed back from the desk.

  “I’m pretty sure I know what your problem is, although I’d like to take a peek at your x-rays before we decide on a plan of action. Do you mind if we move to the exam table? I’m not going to adjust you; I just want to check your mobility.”

  Lauren was surprised to find she wasn’t at all nervous to move to the table. Her friend had been right; something about him was very soothing, very reassuring.

  Lauren laid on the table, and he moved her legs and arms into various positions, describing all the while what he was doing and why. In the midst of him testing her flexibility, the x-ray tech from earlier brought her film into his office with a grunt and promptly left.

  Dr. Wells glanced down at Lauren. “She’s here to scare off the scam artists who want to fake an injury to get out of work.”

  Lauren laughed as he reached out his hand, clasping hers and pulling her to a seated position on the table.

  “You doing okay?” he asked, and she nodded. “Great. Let’s take a look at these x-rays and figure out what we’re going to do with you.”

  He turned toward the lighted board, but before he slid her x-ray onto it, he turned. “Do you need to take a call from your friend? Or perhaps use the bathroom?”

  Lauren smiled. “No, I’m not going anywhere.”

  He grinned his co
llege-boy grin before he turned and slid her film onto the board. “Yep,” he said. “Right here.” He ran his finger along the image of her spine. “See the curve of your lower back? Or lack thereof?” He turned and grabbed another film and put it up next to hers. “This is a typical healthy spine,” he said. “See how your curve is less pronounced?”

  “Yes. Why is it like that?” Lauren asked, leaning closer to the board to get a better look.

  “The bones of the lumbar vertebrae, or the lower back, are more susceptible to injury in a developing adolescent. Now, take a strenuous sport or activity, like gymnastics. That puts a strain on the ligaments and muscles surrounding the spine. Since connective tissues don’t grow at the same rate that bones do, the pressure placed on the ligaments and muscles ends up putting undue stress on the spine.”

  Lauren chewed her lower lip, glancing up at him, and he smiled.

  “You’re in great shape, and this is an easy fix. We just have to retrain your spine to sit the way your body needs it to, and then strengthen the muscles surrounding it to hold it in its proper place. That’s what’s happening when your back spasms, by the way. It’s your body’s way of trying to protect itself. Once we fix the problem, your muscles won’t have to work so hard to rectify the problem.”

  “Okay,” Lauren nodded. “That makes sense.”

  “And I’m thinking I’d also like to put you on a decompression machine.”

  Her eyes widened, and he held up his hand. “That’s not as scary as it sounds. It’s just a machine that stretches your back, focusing on designated areas of the spine. It increases the space between the vertebrae so nutrients and fluids can be absorbed into the discs more efficiently. Quickens the healing process.”

  Lauren tilted her head at him and smiled.

  “What?” he asked.

  “Nothing, I’m just…I’m impressed.”

  “What, that I know what I’m talking about? Were you still convinced I was some frat guy playing doctor?”

  “No,” Lauren said through her laughter. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just didn’t expect to be okay with any of this. But the way you describe things, I don’t know. I’m not as freaked out as I thought I would be.”

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