Galen Thomas flipped on the lights in the Minnesota Technical College lecture hall and tossed Director Puissard’s notes into the recycle bin. He didn’t need them. Age onset statistics for schizophrenia memorized as easily as American League batting averages.
The clock over the whiteboard showed he had fifteen minutes until class started. He picked up a blue marker and tossed it like a ball between his hands while he paced.
Doing an A-plus job at the Blue Lake State Hospital for the Criminally Insane would prove to the suits in the Minnesota Twins’ front office that he could still be an asset to the team. Not as a ninth inning closer, but as a medic.
“Where’s Dr. Puissard?”
The velvet voice startled him.
Galen turned around.
At first glance, she resembled a Nordic sprite, with black leggings under a colorful past-the-knee skirt that looked sewn from a dozen oversized scarves. Above that she wore a hip-hugging sweater with domed silver buttons and flapped pockets. Below, clunky felt-lined winter boots.
He raised his gaze. He liked women who didn’t dress like mall store mannequins. Mysterious women, with more on their minds than answering their friends’ social media posts.
A cloud of curly, jet-black hair framed her oval face. Her ruddy cheeks suggested she’d walked some distance before coming indoors. Intense blue eyes locked onto his as she stepped close.
The scent of spring lilacs enveloped him. She’d asked a question, but he forgotten what it was.
“I said, where’s Dr. Puissard?”
“I’m subbing for him this evening. Galen Thomas, PA.” He held out his hand. “Are you here for the lecture?”
“No.” She squeezed once and let go. Her fingers were calloused and cold.
His palm tingled.
“A PA lecturing about schizophrenia for a night class.” She glanced at the lectern and then up at the board. “Where are your notes?”
“Symptoms, prevalence balance, risk factors, and environmental triggers. All up here.” He tapped his forehead.
“Is your memory that good?”
“For things I’m interested in, yes.”
“Schizophrenia interests you?” She sounded amazed. She opened her mouth to say something more but snapped it shut as students wearing pink and yellow hoodies emblazoned with the Minnesota college logo entered the lecture hall. They clustered on the tiered seats like scouts at spring training camp, marking time, expecting to be bored or unimpressed.
Galen cleared his throat. “Looks like I have to start the class now.”
Several students giggled. Others rolled their eyes or whispered behind raised hands.
She flinched as if their derision picked at a half-healed wound, and then retreated, stiff-backed, toward the exit.
Suddenly, he didn’t want her to leave. Everything about her struck him as special—how she dressed, the aroma of her perfume, the urgent tone underlying her questions. He wanted to impress her with his lecture tonight.
Before he could think of how to stop her, she looked over her shoulder and blurted, “What about gene markers?”
He pitched his voice to drown out any scoffing from the other students. “Three single nucleotide polymorphisms in Neuregulin Three.”
Her eyes widened. She took a seat in the front row.
Ammi Folkright studied Dr. Franco Puissard’s new protégé as he characterized schizophrenia, the most disabling of mental disorders.
Under the brownish-yellow glow of the overhead sodium lights, Galen Thomas’ spiky flattop was the color of wet sand. His gray-blue eyes reminded her of Lake Superior before freeze-up, deep and timeless. Belted black slacks hugged trim hips and athletic legs.
His colorful cartoon pig tie stood out against the light blue of his long-sleeved shirt. He didn’t wear a white doctor’s coat.
She wondered if Dr. Puissard approved. He always lectured in full doctor regalia.
Galen paced as he lectured, unerringly tossing a dry erase marker from one hand to the other. His voice projected well.
She’d seen his picture many times in the Blue Lake Messenger newspaper. High school pitching champion, university scholarship, up-and-coming hurler for the Minnesota Twins baseball team. Then he’d had an accident and dropped off the radar. Until tonight. She wondered if anyone else in the lecture hall recognized him.
He wouldn’t know her. She’d been homeschooled by her grandparents, their way of shielding her from the stares and taunts that had started while search parties scoured the woods for a fresh grave holding her mother’s body. The gibes continued during her father’s trial and reared up each year on the anniversary of her mother’s disappearance.
He drew a squeaky line across the whiteboard. “People with schizophrenia tend to be shy and socially withdrawn. The illness impairs the ability to manage emotions, interact with others, and think clearly. Odds are they will be victims of violence. One of every ten schizophrenics commits suicide.”
She’d come to the lecture because Dr. P wouldn’t return her phone calls. They were locked in another stalemate. She couldn’t stop him from enrolling her father in a schizophrenia drug treatment program. He couldn’t block her legal visits to the prison hospital.
She needed someone on the inside. Someone who would agree that her father was deteriorating. That the experimental drug was eroding his memory. Soon her father wouldn’t remember anything about the night her mother disappeared.
The last PA, and the five before that, hadn’t wanted to get involved. They’d marked time like prisoners in solitary, counting the days. Their bags were packed a month before their time was up.
She didn’t expect Galen Thomas to be any different, but she had to try. Women who inherited the genes for schizophrenia usually developed the disease by the age of twenty-five.
At twenty-four, she was running out of time to find her missing mother.
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