Refuge Cover


By Nanci LaGarenne



People heal. Just not on your clock.

Time makes us older, not necessarily wiser. Wisdom takes work. And staying away from losers takes willpower. Doc Rain was not a fan of defeat, and she was no airy fairy magical thinker either.

She was a realist with a heart.

Some of her fans liked to believe in guardian angels. Nothing wrong with that if it gets you through the day. Doc just never considered herself that spiritual or that needy. She was a therapist who helped broken women survive. You need heart and mind strength for that gig. The women she treated were not only broken in the physical sense, they had deep emotional wounds. And something called trust trauma, Doc liked to call it. If they healed their hearts, the trust might follow. And one day the world will see peace. Sometimes a healthy dose of cynicism was necessary. Clicking their heels three times was not going to take anyone back to Kansas.

Abuse leaves indelible scars. You just never forget, that was the plain truth.

Dr. Rain Taylor, or Doc, as she was known, came to her line of work not by chance. In most cases, social work and therapy in the domestic violence field has a root back somewhere in the practitioner’s psyche. They either experienced abuse themselves or they were familiar with its ugly face.

Doc’s sister, Teresa, could have been her reason. Teresa would thank her if she talked. Teresa had chosen silence and solitude as a cloistered nun. Doc chose battle; Teresa, surrender. Not to the darkness, to God and the light. One cannot judge what is right for another and as much as Doc missed her sister, she understood.

She knew why. She had seen.

She had became Teresa’s protector. Doc did not really want gratitude; she wanted change. She wanted what most of us want, for the abuse to end. For abusers to be locked away so all women and children can be safe. She felt that not to be an impossible task. Maybe Doc had rose-colored glasses after all.

Doc took her job as therapist seriously—basically devoted her life to it. Some might say that was digging to China with a teaspoon. Maybe so. A small dent was better than nothing if it kept one more woman alive and one more child safe. Doc had her own story of how she got here, but that will come later. For now her reflection remains about the women, her boarders at the Brownstone, Doc’s home. And how the people in our lives can change us in very good and very bad ways. Doc wanted to focus on the goodness. The bad has a way of showing up uninvited.

As for guardian angels, Doc would leave that to the heavenly realm. Most us fly much closer to the ground.

Chapter One


Rooney came first.

Rooney McNeil, a Southern spitfire, who called Doc her guardian angel. Rooney was a force of nature Doc could not have prepared for, but then you cannot always prepare for forces of nature. Rooney was a natural born fighter who pulled no punches when telling you what was on her mind. Her quirky expressions and offbeat humor made her like no one Doc had ever met. And Doc had met her share of people through the years, mainly women clients, most hanging by a thread. Rooney was different.

She wanted no pity and no free lunch.

She wore her scars like a battle victory. She was alive. No thanks to her “Cracker” ex-husband who tried his best to do otherwise. Rooney was no Scarlett O’Hara. And neither was she a Melanie. She was more like the entire Civil War, fighting for her life and freedom.

It was safe to say with Rooney around, there was never a dull moment at the brownstone.



She lay at the bottom of the stairs in a heap. At least this time it was her own fault. Doc needs a runner on those damn stairs. The pain grabbed her again. She heard a key turn in the front lock. Thank Christ.  She let the tears come.

It wasn’t Him.

“Rooney? What the hell? Don’t move. Is it your back?”  Doc knelt next to her, accessing the damage, hoping Rooney hadn’t aggravated an old injury.

He’ll never find me here. I swear. “It hurts….” Rooney said, wincing.

“Sorry. Easy now, I’m going to lift you and get you over to the couch, okay?”

“Mmm, hmm,” she moaned weakly. Doc lifted her carefully. She was lighter than expected. Her tough exterior belied her fragile body.


“Got you, no worries.” She went limp and Doc carried her over to the couch.

“There you go, sweetie,” she used her mommy’s here voice. She’d had plenty of practice at the domestic violence shelter where she volunteered. “I’ll go get some ice. Hang on.”

She found empty trays in the freezer. Murphy’s Law ruled in the Brownstone. Doc grabbed a bag of frozen peas instead.

“Here we are. The Green Giant’s going to make it all better.” She put the peas wrapped in a tea towel under Rooney’s back.  Rooney made a pained face, and then relaxed.

“Ahh that feels good. Lucky for me y’all came home early.”

“Let’s cover you with an afghan.” Doc tucked the blanket around Rooney. “What happened?  You get bored cutting heads?”

Rooney wanted to laugh. It hurt too much. “Yeah, after my last haircut I threw myself down the stairs for entertainment.”

“Ass over teakettle?”

“Yep, and speaking of asses…” Rooney winced and rubbed her sore bottom.

“Does it hurt? Because it’s killing….” Doc began the old joke.

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”

“Was I going to say something?”

“Sure you weren’t, and I’m Snow White.”

“There’s a stretch. Where were all your dwarves when you needed them?”

“Probably out screwing Cinderella.”

“I think you’ll be fine, seriously. But we could go get you checked out at the ER.”

“No thanks, no hospital. These peas are all I need. Maybe a hot soak later on.”

“Okay. If they get warm, we’ve got frozen niblets in the freezer. Dory and Fiona working? And where is Mae?” Doc was taking inventory of her other boarders. Ever the den mother.

“Yep, the I.R.A. are at work and Mae went grocery shopping. She took Shamus with her.”

“Right. Shamus would have been licking your face and barking his head off, if he was here. That dog does love you.”

Doc smiled and then out a sigh. She was “dog tired,” as Rooney would say; she needed a second wind for the night.

“Y’all have a rough day?”

Doc didn’t want to depress her but Rooney was right on the money. “Oh, you know how it goes at the shelter, the usual crises. Today one of the fathers pulled a no-show at visitation again. Lots of tears when all arrived home.”

Rooney shook her head. “That all?”

“Sometimes I wonder, Rooney Bean, do we ever make a difference?”

Rooney smiled and her face lit up. “My daddy used to call me that. I haven’t heard it in a coon’s age. By the way, you absolutely do make a difference, you gotta know that.”

“Right, now you throw yourself down the stairs. Oh no, what the heck is the matter with me? I’m sorry, that was insensitive of me.” Doc felt terrible. “How about some tea? What does Dory call it? The Irish cure-all?”

Rooney patted Doc’s leg. “It’s all raht. At least I didn’t have to fuck the hillbilly after. I’d love some tea, by the way, fix me right up.” She smiled the angelic smile of an imp. The old Rooney was back. Though for a minute she looked a million miles away.

“Remember what tonight is?”

“Friday? Just kidding. Yep, the bare-y’alls soul group. And hopefully a large pitcher of margaritas to follow directly.”

“Good girl. I am definitely looking forward to the after. Now, you rest. Want the telly on?”

Rooney laughed. “The I.R.A. are getting the better of you. What would Uncle Carmine think, hearing you talk like that?”

“He’d say I was tu se pazzo. Crazy.” She handed Rooney the remote.

“I ain’t touching that one….”

“Wise girl.” Doc walked towards the kitchen.

Returning with Rooney’s tea, Doc excused herself and took her coffee down to her office and closed the door. “Never a dull moment is there?’ she said out loud. Not in your life, she thought. You took on the boogeyman and he doesn’t take vacation. Membership in the Three-F Club was always on the rise. Fed-up, frightened, and fucked-over women, apply here.

The name of the Friday night support group was apropos. SAGAS. Salvation & Grace & Second chances. Rooney preferred “Somebody Actually Gives A Shit.” Doc tended to agree with her there.

It wasn’t a pretty business.

The wolves were always out there lurking. At any given moment another victim would knock at her door. Distraught. Demeaned. Devoured by the wolf.  Metaphorically speaking. In nature wolves can be fascinating animals. Spiritual. Revered by Native Americans. And they can be brutal predators.

Like some men.

Ones that prey on their own kind. Men who hurt women in all manner of vicious ways. The men were not her concern. They got no billing. To say they were no better than pigs would be insulting another animal species. For both slurs to the animal kingdom, mea culpa.

Truth is she loved her job.

Wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. Rooney called her an angel. “Y’all saved us, Doc.” Angel was a stretch. Champion of women? Maybe. Fact is, she didn’t choose her line of work. It chose her. El destino, her Uncle Carmine’s line. Destiny, yes.

Like the day she met Rooney McNeil.


Nanci LaGarenneNancy LaGarenne is a freelance journalist on the East End of Long Island and author of three novels, two which are published. She is a former childcare and hotline staff worker at The Retreat. Refuge is a homage to the brave women who start over after leaving abusive situations and the dedicated women who work in the DV field. Refuge is available on and Indie bookshops on the East End. For more information about Nanci and her books, check out her website



Photo: Provided by author

Editor: Dana Gornall