‘Shhh…” Mommy whispers and hugs me tight, but I still jump when the mean man bangs on the door. I’m scared it will break.
“I know you’re there!” he yells.
“He’ll go soon.” Mommy strokes my hair. Her hand's shaking, and I know she’s scared, just like me.
I get really, really scared when the man bangs real hard. He shouts bad words—words Mommy says I must never say even if grown-ups use them. “I’ll be back!” His voice is so scary that I shake just like Mommy's hand..
We stay behind the sofa for a long time before Mommy lets me go. She makes the sign to be quiet and crawls to the door. She listens then she stands to look through the peephole. She turns and smile, but her eyes are wet and sad.
“It’s okay, Adam,” Mommy picks me up and kisses my cheek. “I’ll have the money next week. We’ll be okay,” she tells me.
“And were you?” Ariane's voice drags me back to the present.
“No. The guy returned with two others the next day. One was responsible for Eleanor changing,” I say, picking at a worn spot on my jeans. I know she's watching me, but I don’t look up. I'm tired of talking about this shit.
“And that’s your earliest memory of your mother?” Ariane asks; her persistence really pissing me off now.
“No, I have others, but they’re not clear.” Eleanor smiling lovingly, cuddling me; I remember how happy we were before she changed, but I don’t share that.
“And how old were you at the time of that incident?”
“Around five. Six maybe.”
“Adam...” Ariane aits for me to comply. I know she won’t give up. Believe me, I've tested her. So I grudgingly do as she asks, hating that she’ll see how close I am to crying. If Alan were here, he'd call me a pussy, and maybe I am. I’m seventeen, fuck's sake, I should be over this by now. I have a family, a real family now, but it doesn’t matter how happy they make me or how hard I try, my screwed-up memories keep pulling me back to that time.
“Eleanor loved you, Adam,” Ariane says like it’s a fact. As if she knows. How the hell can she? She wasn’t there. She wasn't ignored or forced to go to bed hungry while her mother entertained men. She didn't see her mother’s eyes glaze over to the point where she completely lost sight of her child.
“Sure, she did. Are we done ?” I ask, trying to hold back the sarcasm because the last thing I want is Ariane telling Mom I’m not cooperating. I’ll be stuck in this hell called therapy even longer then. More importantly, I know how much that would hurt Mom, and I don’t want that because I’d do almost anything for my mother. Well, this mother because, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do shit for the other.
In one of our early sessions, Ariane asked why I never refer to Eleanor as either 'Mom' or even my mother. ‘"Why do you always call her Eleanor or her in that dismissive tone?" I think her exact words were. I shrugged, not wanting her to pry more than she already had. Ariane suggested, then, that I was emotionally distancing myself. She said it was my way of covering my hurt and repressed anger, my way of denying that I loved Eleanor—that I still love her— and that she’d loved me. After that, I point-blank refused to talk about her. Once, I'd even walked out in the middle of a session, telling her her methods sucked.
I don't know why today was different; why, after a month of successful avoidance, I caved. Ariane had probed as she always does, but I couldn't, as I'd always done, push the memories of Eleanor down. Without meaning to, I'd cracked.
Ariane's a psychologist, like Mom, and if I’m to believe Mom, one of the best. Mom once described her as the earth-mother type, and I guess the soft voice, flowing skirts, multiple rings, and dangly earrings could give you that impression. But don’t be fooled by her understanding smile and conciliatory approach like I'd been at first. She’s like a terrier with a bone, gnawing away, relentless in her determination to make you talk about shit you’d rather forget. She sits in that god-awful yellow chair, watching your every move like a hawk, asking question after question. It doesn’t matter if you curse or walk out like I once did; the next time, she just picks up where she left off.
Ariane , I can tell, has a caring nature that hides an unstoppable determination. Mom's the same. Maybe it's something to do with their jobs. Perhaps people like them gravitate to psychology. It makes sense; social workers and therapists must need those characteristics to deal with the shit people like me dish up to them every day.
“Yes. For today,” Ariane answers my question. “That was a good start, Adam. We'll continue next week,” she warns, and I nod, unwilling to argue. I just want to get the hell out of here.
Cait’s watching T.V. when I get home. “How was it?” she asks when I flop onto the sofa next to her.
“Fine,” I mumble, reaching for the remote in her hand, but she swats me away.
“Don’t lie,” she persists.
I sigh, knowing just how useless resisting her is. “Ariane pissed me off, that's all. She got me to talk about Eleanor.”
“How did you feel about that?” she asks, something I’d expect from Mom or Dad—even Ariane. I sometimes wonder if Cait’s insightfulness is genetic or if her impairment makes her more sensitive.
“Shitty. I hate talking about Eleanor. I got even more pissed when Ariane tried to convince me she loved me. That’s just bullshit!” I look away, feeling myself choke up again.
“Hey!” Cait grabs my arm. “You should talk to Ariane. She could help. ”
“She can’t. No one can, Cait. Anyway, it’s all in the past. I don’t want to think about it, and I sure as hell don’t want to talk about it anymore. Drop it, okay?”
“What are you two arguing about?” Mom demands as she walks in.
“Adam’s a stubborn ass like always,” Cait says, and Mom looks at me.
“And Cait’s a pushy busybody like always.” I shoot her a look, warning her not to say anything.
She waits until Mom turns away before raising her middle finger. Yes, flipping someone the bird is the same in sign language, something Cait and I discovered when we decided to learn ASL curse words. Deaf people, I also learned, curse as much as the rest of us.
I mouth ‘bitch,' at her, but Mom turns and catches me. “Adam, please don’t use that word, especially when talking to or about your sister!” she admonishes.
“You didn’t see what she said,” I grumble. Mom looks at Cait, who stares back angelically.
“I’m watching both of you,” Mom warns before making her way upstairs.
* * * * *
It’s been three weeks since that therapy session. I turned up at the next as evasive as ever—as if I hadn't spilled my guts the week before. But Ariane saw right through me and called me out on it. “These sessions aren't for my benefit, Adam. You don’t have to work with me, but I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn't recommend that you continue seeing someone,” she said. And so, worried about my parents’ reaction and the thought of someone new trawl through my head, I relented. I admitted how mad I still am about Eleanor’s choices, her death, and how much I hate Adam Winston, his money, and what it represents.
Ariane tried and failed again to convince me about Eleanor's love. She also suggested that Winston had tried to make amends. I dismissed that statement with the contempt it deserved. "Too late, and with money!" I snapped. She moved on then, thank goodness, and, instead, asked what would help me to move past my anger. "I don't know," I said.
"There must be something, Adam, some other avenue you can channel your emotions into. Eleanor and Edward Winston are gone. Hanging onto your anger is only hurting you. If you hurt, then your Mom and Dad and Cait hurt," she'd added. Ariane probed until I, finally, said that I was more sad and hurt about Eleanor than angry. I don't know exactly how true that statement is because much of my anger at Eleanor is mixed with feelings of hurt and betrayal. I can't tell where one emotion starts and the other begins. On the topic of Winston, though, I couldn't—wouldn't— be moved.
I argued that there was nothing repressed about my feelings for him. I didn't feel the need to hide my anger at Winston. In fact, I stated categorically, I didn't hate the man; I loathed him. Ariane ignored my outburst. "Let's talk about how you can channel those feelings into becoming the best man you can be. One nothing like your biological father," she cunningly added.
“You say the only positive thing you gained from what you’ve learned since finding out about Adam Winston is that the law can serve those less privileged in society? Why do you think that?” Ariane asks and then, as she always does, sits back and waits.
I huff out a frustrated breath, wishing she’d just tell me what she thinks because sure as shit, she has an opinion. “Adam Winston was not my father; he was a sperm donor,” I correct her. “And yes, that’s the only positive thing. Oh wait, that’s not true. I enjoyed seeing New York with my real dad. But do you know what the best thing was? It was when I found out Adam Winston was dead.”
“I know you didn't actually gain pleasure from someone’s death,” Ariane replies, not like an admonishment; she’s stating a fact.
“Okay, maybe I wasn’t exactly happy that he died, but I was fucking thrilled that I didn’t have to meet the coward.”
Ariane doesn’t bat an eyelid at my cursing, which tells me she’s determined not to get sidetracked. “Tell me again how you came to the realization about the law,” she asks. So I tell her how, weeks ago, we received a letter from Winston’s widow advising of their intention to contest my inclusion in his will. I, of course, wanted Dad to write back to say they’re welcome to the money. But he said he wouldn't relinquish a cent of what he insisted is my entitlement. He met with his lawyer, and together, they agreed to inform the Winstons that we welcomed their action. In turn, we’d counterclaim for my rightful share of Winston’s nearly billion and a half dollar fortune.
In the end, they didn’t contest the will. Instead, we received another letter from their solicitor. In it, they demanded that we don't, in any way, seek to capitalize on the Winston name and that my relationship with the family be kept secret. Dad instructed his lawyer to reply that their request had been unnecessary, that we'd never, under any circumstances, blemish the Thorne name by associating it with that of the Winstons. In turn, he demanded that they not reveal my connection to their family. We haven’t heard from them since.
“When we got that first letter, and Dad refused to play ball, I thought because they’re rich and powerful, they’d ride all over us,” I admit. “But Dad and his lawyer challenged them and won. I liked that. I like that the law is based on fact and that our lawyer beat the big guns from New York. I realised that a good lawyer, no matter if he's from a small or big firm, or if his client is rich or poor, can prove the difference in someone getting justice or not.”
Ariane contemplates me thoughtfully, her mouth curved into a small, almost smug smile.
“You think I’m spouting shit,” I challenge.
“Not at all. I’m amazed and delighted if you must know. That’s the first time I’ve seen you excited about anything other than your family. Don’t you see the possibilities?”
“You're so passionate when talking about the way the law works or should work. You could turn that interest into helping others, just like your dad’s lawyer helped you. Channel your anger and frustration into constructive rather than destructive behavior. Let go of our anger, Adam, because you're not doing yourself any favors. You’re a brilliant student. You could get into almost any law school in the country if you put your mind to it.
"Just think about it," she says seeing my skeptical expression, and then, with a smile announces that our time’s up.
I stand, and unlike every time before, I feel oddly reluctant to leave. Equally surprising is that I’m not seething with resentment. Instead, my mind's spinning, thinking about the possibilities.
“You see it, don’t you?” Ariane’s eyes gleam with satisfaction as she also stands.
“I do.” I return her smile—probably the first genuine one since our first meeting.