“Have a seat,” Dr. Cheever said, gesturing to the black leather couch in the center of his office. He gave Cara a pleasant smile, and she blinked away the turn of her stomach that questioned every man. She’d met Dr. Cheever, just for a bit, a few days earlier. He was nice, from what she could tell. The kind of man that would put people at ease. But he was a man. She saw the concern and knew that she couldn’t let it affect her. She couldn’t be the girl that was unable to talk to someone just because he was a he.
She tucked her dress under herself as she settled into the sofa, beside her mother. The lights were dim – she wished he’d turn them up. All the walls were dark wood, like the sitting room at home. Dr. Cheever took a chair facing her. He was a nice man with ruddy cheeks and a blonde beard, friendly, but she felt she would not like to be alone with him. She exhaled the fear, but it didn’t go anywhere.
“This is a safe place,” he said. “We can talk about anything, and nobody will know what you say unless that’s what you want. I’ll discuss your general progress with your mom, and maybe sometimes my impressions, but I won’t reveal the specifics of what you tell me. I’m not allowed to divulge what you say unless I believe you are a danger to yourself or someone else, and I wouldn’t want to anyway, because your trust is very important to me. All right?”
“We’re going to create lots of safe places for you. Places where you don’t have to look over your shoulder all the time. Where you can fall asleep. Does that sound good?”
She pressed her lips shut with a hard swallow and nodded. It did sound good. Impossible, but good.
“Your mother is going to sit with us for a while, in the beginning. I want us to talk together about both of your understandings – how you feel, how she feels. I want us to find a common ground, make sure we agree on the important issues.” Important issues – she knew what that meant, even if he was trying to be nice. “After a while, if it’s OK with you, I thought we might sit and talk for a little bit, just the two of us. But it’s entirely up to you. We can have her sit in the hall, with the door open, or she can stay in here. How does that sound?”
Cara glanced up at her mother, watching her with hopeful eyes. She wanted her there for the whole session, for all the sessions. But her mother had told her that it would be best to be alone with the therapist as much as possible, that her presence might hinder the healing process. She didn’t want to think about that. Dr. Cheever’s smile made her want to put her hand in her lap, maybe another across her chest. He’s a nice man, she had to tell herself. You can trust him.
“Good. That’s good,” Dr. Cheever said, and she thought she saw his tongue press against his cheek. The tongue. She blinked away the memory of the Giant’s slimy tongue. “I’d like to start by asking you why you think you’re here today.”
Cara forced both of her hands into her lap, wrapping her knuckles together into a bulk of a fist. “Because I hid in the bathroom at the concert.” She waited to see if that would elicit a response, but both the doctor and her mother said nothing. “Because I thought I saw HIM.”
“Is there any other reason you’re here?”
She pressed her fingers hard into themselves, eyes on the window ledge. A white lion statue stood erect, fierce, partly draped in the shadow of the yellow curtains. “Because I see Daddy.”
Dr. Cheever turned his gaze to her mother. “Mrs. Camden, why do you feel that Cara is here today?”
Her mother’s hand fell to the cushion between them. “Because I think it will do her good to have someone to talk to – someone not connected with any of the…troubling things she’s experienced lately. Someone who can listen, with an open mind, and help her to talk about it all.”
“What do you think about that?” Dr. Cheever asked.
“Sounds good,” she replied, digging her thumbnail into her palm, holding it there.
“Well, then, Momma,” Dr. Cheever continued. “Perhaps you can share with us some of the…troubling things you feel Cara has experienced lately.”
She listened as her mother laid it out for the doctor, and as Cara’s story emerged, she kept her thumbnail buried in the center of her palm, as tightly as she could without letting her arms shake, without showing. Cara knew it all already, but hearing her mother explain her point of view, talking about her almost as if she wasn’t even there, she wanted to sink into the crack in the sofa and disappear. She wanted to push back those bright and happy curtains, face the lion, and fly away.
“Excellent. Thank you, Mrs. Camden. And now that you’ve expressed your perspective into what Cara is going through, would you tell me now what concerns you have for her? Not just regarding the difficult experiences lately, but any concerns at all?”
Cara lifted her head toward her mother, who looked back down at her, squeezing her hand. “Well…the most immediate thing would have to be…I’m concerned because she’s tiring herself into oblivion and not getting enough rest. I think if she would get the proper rest she would be in such a better place, whether it means taking a pill or not. I’m concerned that I’m not going to be enough for her now that her daddy’s gone. That I’m going to make mistakes – hurt her more. I’m going to try so hard, but I’m worried I won’t always be there for her when she needs me. I’m…concerned that she’s going to have trouble making friends, maybe have trouble with…boys. That she’s going to carry the memory of that night with her for the rest of her life, and I’ll never be able to do anything to save her from it. Just like I couldn’t save her when it happened.”
Her mother pulled Cara against herself with a gentle hand. Cara’s eyes were on Dr. Cheever as he wrote in his notepad.
“But mostly…I’m desperate to keep all of this from the world. I’ve sheltered her from the reporters, but they get their information anyway. And every time I see her picture on a television screen, I brace myself to hear them talking about her being…” She squeezed Cara’s hand. “…confused. They’re running out of steam on Ben’s murder. The trail’s running cold, and that makes Cara more and more interesting to them. If the truth about her…confusion gets out, it could scar her forever. At least, that’s how it feels.”
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Camden,” he said. “That’s very helpful, not just for you to express it but for Cara to hear it. Now Cara, can you tell me what goals you would like to set for yourself? What would you like to get out of your therapy?”
“To…” She had to be careful that she didn’t say anything to give herself away. Doctors were smart. She had to watch her words or he’d know she’d lied about the blindfold, that her daddy’s death was her fault. “…not be afraid anymore.”
“What, may I ask, are you afraid of?”
You, she wanted to say. “A lot of things.”
“Can you name a few?”
She pressed her legs together, remembering the Giant’s hand sliding down between them. “I’m afraid of being…touched. I’m afraid of…I can’t sit with my back to the door. I’m afraid the man who killed my daddy is going to come back.”
“That’s good, Cara. It’s good to say it out loud. Doesn’t it feel good to say it out loud?” She nodded, but it didn’t particularly feel all that great. “Cara, what would you think about talking to me without your mother, just the two of us? She’ll be just on the other side of the door. We’ll even keep it open. What do you think about that?”
She didn’t want it at all, but her mother’s sad smile was enough for her to know it was a good thing, even if it filled her with fear. “All right.”
Her mother gave her a slow hug, then stepped out into the lobby. Cara could just see her on the other side of the door.
“It’s good that you’ve come.” Dr. Cheever crossed his legs and leaned in, still smiling, still trying to convince her he was safe. “I’m here to listen to you and help you work through what’s causing you trouble. Your mom’s concerned about you. A lot of people are concerned about you. Some people might see that as a good thing. How do you feel about that?”
Cara crossed her arms, bristling. He was trying to soften her up, weaken her resolve. When the doctor smiled, she imagined she could see his tongue peeking out from behind his teeth. Like the Giant. She knew he was waiting for a response, but her throat closed up, refusing to give him one.
“I can’t make you talk, but you have to stay until the session is over. Do you understand?” She nodded. “Can we talk without your mom, just the two of us?”
“All right.” She leaned back against the sofa and put her hands on the cool leather.
“Your mother’s first concern is that you’re exhausting yourself and not getting any rest. How do you feel about the amount of rest you get?”
Cara focused on the back of the notepad as the doctor tapped his pen against it. “I’m usually pretty tired. I have a really hard time falling asleep because…every time I’m about nod off I hear a tapping at my window, or a rustling in the closet, or sometimes…someone fiddling at my doorknob, trying to get in my room.”
“Have you been taking your sleep medication?”
“Where do you keep your pills?”
“The bathroom counter.” That nasty little bottle with all the typing on it, like a report. Cara Camden – crazy girl who needs to take a pill to sleep.
“What’s the first thought that pops into your mind when you see the bottle?”
She wanted to dump those pills in the toilet and give it a good flush, watch them spin around and get sucked out, away from her. Her daddy took too many sleeping pills one night, and it almost killed him. “If I take one and have a bad dream, I won’t be able to wake up.”
“That does sound scary. Of course you would want to be able to wake up.”
“And the pharmacist was creepy. He looked at me funny.”
Dr. Cheever smiled again. He was creepy too. She pulled at her skirt, trying to cover as much of her legs as she could. She wished she’d worn pants – it hadn’t occurred to her until she arrived that she didn’t want the doctor to see her in her school-uniform skirt. “Have you been sleeping at all?”
“It’s a scary thing to be afraid of sleep. Were you afraid of the dark when you were a girl?”
“I had nightmares.” When Jack told her his sister Rebecca died, the girl had visited Cara’s dreams that night. When her daddy’s friend Jackie Gleason died, he’d chased her through her house and she hadn’t been able to get away. “Not about monsters. They were dead people, coming for me.”
“When you sleep, how long is it? An hour? Two?”
She looked away from him, around at the office. She ran her hands along her soft sleeves, cradling herself. The door was open. Cara could see her mother’s legs, an open magazine. She wondered if her mother could hear her. “It’s like I nod off, but something wakes me up. Maybe something in the dream, maybe it’s just…jitters. Wind on the window. The ticking of the clock.”
“How often do you feel rested?”
“Once in a while.”
“Do you notice anything different on those days? Are they better?”
Dr. Cheever was nice, Cara told herself. She pulled on her collar, bringing it high on her neck. “The only better days are the ones when nothing…” She singled out the word she’d learned in the school library when she’d found a book on anxiety disorders. “…triggers me.”
“When you don’t get enough sleep, your mind can get a little rusty. Maybe you’ll hear people say things they didn’t really say. Or you’ll see something that’s not really there.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Does it seem like I’m saying you’re crazy? I’m sorry if that’s how it came across. I don’t think that at all. I’m just saying that sleep is very important,” Dr. Cheever said. “Your mom mentioned that she’s worried that you feel like people think you’re crazy.”
“But I’m not.”
“I wonder why people would think you are, if you’re not.”
He knew. He had to know. This was an act. “Because sometimes I see daddy, even though I know he’s not there.”
“When was the last time you saw your father?”
She glared at him as her heart beat faster, clocking away in her chest. That little spot on her wrists pulsed along with it. She was hiding in a closet. She was locked in a bathroom stall. She was safe, in her own head. Nobody could steal the things she knew. Nobody could take him away from her. “For real or…”
“Or,” Dr. Cheever said.
She looked away from him, a wave of shame running across her back. “This morning.”
“Where did you see him?”
“And what was he doing there?”
“I don’t know. I only saw him for a second.” The eyes following her as if she were on display. The embarrassment, the humiliation. Teachers and students who didn’t understand. Who just saw a spectacle. “He was in the hallway. I called to him and he walked away. I ran after him and shouted for him, but when I got to the end of the hall, he was gone.”
“I wonder why you ran after him if you knew it wasn’t real.”
“Because…because when I saw him…I wasn’t sure. Everybody was watching me, whispering about me. Looking at me like I’m crazy.” The air was thick and hard to breathe. Dr. Cheever watched her. “But I’m not.”
“I know you’re not crazy.”
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