Authors: Courtney Kirchoff
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Suspense
After seven minutes of waiting, the office door opened, and Anita emerged with a decaffeinated smile on her faded red lips. Her hair was curled today; dark brown ringlets with streaks of natural gray brushed the tops of her shoulders. Jaden assumed she was in her early fifties or late forties. Anita reminded Jaden of a peacock, maybe because her face was thin and small. Jaden slid off his chair and stomped into her office.
Anita’s office had yellow walls, shelves stuffed with toys, a red and yellow striped rug on a wood floor, and two chairs in the center of the office. Bean bags were stashed in a corner for the little kids to sit on. He assumed all child therapists must arrange their offices similarly; Originality was not something they prescribed.
Jaden took the arm chair Anita pointed out, and she sat opposite, crossing her legs and smiling again.
“Well,” she said, in a throaty voice, “it’s been one week.”
“So says the calendar,” said Jaden.
“How has it been with the Kauffmans?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Would you like to elaborate? What have you three done?”
Jaden shrugged. “I don’t know. The first few days we didn’t say much, just kinda stared at each other. They’ve never had a foster kid before. They’re new. Then we played basketball on Saturday.”
Anita folded her hands over her lap and nodded again. She was a nodder. “That sounds nice.”
“I asked them why they couldn’t have a baby,” he offered.
“Did they tell you?”
“Sort of. I didn’t want to hurt Jenny by asking too much.”
Jaden’s main goal in therapy was to keep the conversation away from his past. He didn’t mind telling Anita things he had said or done recently, but he avoided talking about the “traumas of his childhood.” Jaden assumed this must have frustrated Anita, as the issues he didn’t want to discuss were the reasons he was forced to attend therapy.
“That was nice of you.”
“I guess. She said she wanted me to be part of her family, or whatever.”
“They’re nice people.” She said it almost like a question.
“I think so.”
“But you’re not sure?” Anita asked, leaning forward.
Jaden leaned farther back into his chair and brought his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. “It’s only been a week,” he said.
She nodded. “Have you been sleeping all night?”
Jaden swallowed, but did not answer.
Anita nodded again. “Why aren’t you sleeping well?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He found a spot on the chair to pick at.
“You’re staying awake at night on purpose?” she said, and when he looked up at her, she continued. “You have shadows under your eyes. The Kauffmans bought you a new bed and you have your own room, right?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s weird being in a room alone.”
“That’s not why you’re keeping yourself awake.”
She circled him like a shark, coming closer to deeper issues. He’d already thrown too much chum. “Derek likes basketball, too. He’s a Lakers fan, but I think we can make it work.”
“You two have something in common? That’s good. What do you like best about Jenny?”
“She makes great French toast. She puts cinnamon and vanilla in the eggs. That’s what we had this morning for breakfast. They took this week off work, too, like last week.”
“To get to know you better.”
He shrugged, but knew it was the correct answer.
“Why are you afraid of that?” she asked.
His bottom lip seemed to be swelling. “I’m not,” he said.
She cocked an eyebrow. “Jaden, I’m not going to tell them what you say. You can tell me what’s worrying you. It’s between us.”
“I’m a minor, I don’t have the rights of an adult.”
“I’m not going to tell your new parents what you tell me. I promise.”
It stung again. She had stung him on purpose for a reaction, to watch him squirm. He chose not to react to the new parent comment.
“I’m not worried about them.”
“Why are you keeping yourself up at night?”
More like a ninja than a therapist. Anita knew how to corner him and make him talk. After seeing her for three years, he wondered why he hadn’t figured out a way around her tactics. She had him in a tough spot: wounded by the parent comment and scared of her question’s answer. Responding to either would make him surrender private information and eventually lead back
“I don’t want to have nightmares,” he said.
“You think they’ll return? Even though you’re in a new and safe place?” “I don’t know.”
Now she leaned back in her chair. “There is one way to make real progress.You have to get it out. We’ve been avoiding the issue for years. Don’t you want to talk about it?”
He clenched his hands around the arms of the chair and bit his lower lip, shaking his head.
“It might help.”
He glowered at her. How was talking supposed to help? Everyone said so, but how could they know? Wasn’t everyone’s life different? How would a discussion about feelings erase memories?
“You’re angry,” she said.
He remained silent.
“The Kauffmans want a child. They don’t need money from the state. I can tell you, after what happened the last time, we made sure this family checked out. It won’t happen again. You’re safe.”
She couldn’t analyze what he didn’t say. He tried thinking of things he and the Kauffmans would do once they got back to the house. It was too hot outside for sports, so he would have to find an indoors activity. The Kauffmans didn’t have books to read, they had all their books on their high-tech electronic things.
Anita kept staring. Her eyes, which bored into him, reminded him of things he didn’t want to discuss, like she was shooting images into his brain, making him remember, forcing him to talk. Chatting about his “issues” wasn’t going to make them go away. They’d happened, he’d lived, he was passed it. The problem was ensuring they didn’t happen again. Anita, with her judging eyebrows and nods, couldn’t do anything to help prevent anything.
“You’re playing the quiet game. We have a while to go yet.”
Jaden crossed his arms. “I don’t think I need therapy.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes it’s so,” Jaden said.
“Why do you believe that?” she asked.
Jaden smirked. “Why do you think I need it?”
“I didn’t say I did.”
Oh. No, she hadn’t said that. Crap, she
“Then I can stop coming, if neither one of us thinks I need therapy?” he said.
“I didn’t say that either,” she said.
“Well say something!”
Anita pursed her lips. “There’s no need to get snappy.”
“I’m fine, and I don’t want to come anymore. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Even as the words were spoken, Jaden’s face flushed. It wasn’t the entire truth. “Wrong” was a word he didn’t like. He was odd. A little different, but not wrong.
“Jaden,” Anita said, a warmness in her usually cold voice, “it’s unusual for boys to keep themselves awake at night so they don’t have nightmares. Which means one of two things: the nightmares are horrifying, or you’re afraid of what happens when they come. Either way, it’s something we need to work on so you
move past it.
“You’re mature, so I’m going to talk to you like an adult. The reason you continue coming here has everything to do with too many changes in your life, and nothing to do with you being insane. No one has ever said you’re insane, and no one will. You’ve been through a lot of stress, and I want to help you get through it. Doesn’t that sound reasonable?”
It did sound reasonable, but he didn’t want to admit it to her.
She continued through his silence. “You’re terrified of losing control. I know that’s important to you.”
In the three years he’d been forced to see her, she had never been so honest. Part of him was curious about the sudden change in her approach, the other part was thankful. He was tired of being treated like a child, sitting here in a room filled with toys. That’s what the State of California thought he was: just another boy in the system. The truth was different. In age, yes, he was a child, but he knew most people would never know as much as he did.
“So...” Jaden started. He thought for a moment. Anita looked expectantly at him. “So what if I told you it was both.”
“Both of what?”
“The nightmares. It’s both.”
If Anita felt triumphant she didn’t show it.
“I’m scared of the nightmares and what I’ll do,” Jaden said slowly, looking up at her from under his brow. Taking a deep breath he said, “Because that’s what happened the last time.”
A small flicker of excitement flashed briefly in her eyes. At long last, he was opening up.
“What are they about?” she asked.
Before the words could form on his lips, Jaden felt sick. Images flashed across his mind, and his stomach clenched. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying to think instead of playing basketball with Derek. Remembering how much fun it was to win a game against an adult, of how Jenny clapped when he made a shot from the three point line.
Talking about it wasn’t going to help. He tried. The pain in his gut lessened and he released the breath he was holding. A knocking sound forced his eyes open, and he saw Anita clutching her pen tightly in her hand, her own eyes wide.
She relaxed the moment he noticed her.
“That’s okay,” she said. She smiled at him. “That’s okay. Let’s move on.”
Naturally the Kauffmans asked about the session. He skipped over the details with vague generalities, taking advantage of the fact that, as suburban dwellers, their experience in the realm of child psychology was limited. Jaden told them he was safe to drive and take home, using the sarcasm they appeared to like. They smiled and let it go.
He watched passing cars through the window. Red ones, blue ones, silver ones. He made a game of counting the yellow cars because there didn’t seem to be too many of those. While focusing on his search for canary cars, Jaden heard snippets of the conversation in the front seats. Only after his name was mentioned did he abandon his count (seven) to listen.
Jenny discussed potato salad. Jaden shook his head. Reading in the morning while drinking coffee, wearing slippers, and now potato salad. It was like living in a parallel universe. She wondered aloud what mayonnaise to use, like it was a big deal. Jaden was unaware there were different kinds. The matters that concerned the Kauffmans were laughably trivial. Types of mayonnaise. Unreal.
Listening to this conversation was more entertaining and enlightening than counting cars. He regretted the time lost.
“What do you like better, honey, the red potatoes or the regular ones?” she asked her husband, who shrugged.
“Whatever we have at the house.”
“Well that’s the thing, we don’t have either.”
“Do the one you like best.”
like best?” she asked him.