Thoughts of mental institutions and snowstorms flashed through Sawyer’s mind as he approached the door at the end of the hall on the right. He noted that the ‘Psychiatric Services and Personal Therapy’ building was spotlessly clean. Not a speck of dirt dared make itself known on the white walls that practically gleamed, and save for a few picture frames of various scenic locations in Vermont, the surface of the hallway appeared nearly as empty and devoid of color as the peeling wallpaper back at his apartment. He noted that he could not hear his own footsteps as he walked carefully across the carpeted floor, smiling to himself as he made the realization that were he to sneak to the door of the office, knife in hand, she would not hear a sound. The doorknob had been freshly polished, and as he placed his hand upon it and felt the touch of the ice cold brass, he was suddenly face to face with the young woman he’d seen in the market just a few days prior. The Edwards woman. Presumably, she had by chance decided to meet him in the hall just as he was testing how quietly he could enter her workplace. He straightened, brushed himself off, and met her gaze. She was quite attractive, with her long black hair tied in a neat bun atop her head, and her blazer hugging her slim figure. Violet eyeliner tinted the corners of her eyes, a light blush sweeping across her cheeks in a lazy, yet not unpleasant way. He felt himself take a short, sharp breath, and forced himself to look down to the floor. She reacted just as he had hoped.
“Hello, Mr. Bennett.” She shook his hand firmly. Her palm smelled faintly of lemongrass and lavender. “Thank you for coming to meet me at this time. I understand that this was difficult for you to do, so I’ll try to make it as painless as possible. Come in and please have a seat wherever you like.”
“Do you mind if I take a quick minute?” He forced his voice to waver, keeping his eyes on his shoes.
“Of course. Take all the time you need, and you may enter when you’re ready to have a chat with me.”
Upon watching her face disappear behind the closed door, Sawyer immediately began pinching his arm vigorously. Over and over, each agonizing sensation he endured made his eyes well up with tears behind the grimy spectacles he had chosen especially for this occasion. He grasped the doorknob once more and entered the room, just as she had instructed.
The office smelt suffocatingly of essential oils, and was accented with shag rugs and sofas with cushions that seemed to have been sat upon by thousands of people before him. Everything but the cacti and potted palms was a shade of cream or soft, rosy pink. The woman smiled.
“Please, have a seat.” He chose the nearest couch, and sat. The cushions gave under him, and he sank into it.
“Are you comfortable?” Her voice was soft, gentle, and smooth. Like the butter he had spread on his toast that morning. Like an ocean.
He nodded, his expression blank and unreadable.
“My job here is to talk to you, and help guide you until you reach a place where you are able to solve your problems effectively. However, before we start, I’d like to tell you a few things about me. I believe that acquainting myself with you will allow you to feel more comfortable opening up to me. My name is Amelia Edwards, and I’ve been working as a therapist for the past five years. I believe in the humanistic therapy method, and in other words, have full and complete confidence that you are able to solve any one of your problems. However, I am here to guide you to that state of mind, so you may feel free to express to me whatever thoughts or concerns you have in these following weeks. Shall we begin? What’s ailing you?
Sawyer placed his hands together and began to wring them. Amelia took out a pen and paper and placed them on the coffee table beside her.
“Well,” he began, “lately I’ve been losing a lot of friends.” Had that sounded too pathetic of a problem? Was it believable? “I guess they just don’t like the way I am right now, but I-” He paused for effect, “I-I’ve just been so lonely. I have no one. And I don’t know what to do about it. I’m so sad all the time, and I just don’t know what to do. I just don’t know.”
Something lingered in her eyes as he sat slouched over and told her lie after lie after lie.
“So, Mr. Bennett, you feel that your behavior is driving your loved ones away from you, is that correct?”
He nodded carefully.
“And what about your behavior do you feel specifically repels others?”
Imperceptibly, he smirked, before drawing his eyebrows to the center of his forehead. He wondered if he looked as concerned and downtrodden as he thought he did.
“Well, I-I guess that I’ve just been really sad lately. Nothing feels enjoyable to me anymore. Some days, I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed, and I don’t feel happy anymore. It doesn’t feel I’m myself anymore, and-” He trailed off, deciding that he had not been enunciating his point clearly enough. Placing his head in his hands, he shook his shoulders and breathed heavily into his palms. He cursed himself for not paying attention in his mandatory theatre class in middle school, for, maybe if he had, he would have learnt to produce actual tears instead of having to fill the office of Ms. Amelia Edwards with dry, emotionless sobbing. Through a gap in his fingers, he inspected her. She had not changed her position, had not moved, and yet there was a pitying expression upon her face. Amelia sat there, letting him continue to convince her that he was indeed depressed.
“Well it certainly sounds like you’ve got some things in your life right now that are causing you distress.” Her voice was calculated, clear and calm. “I think the question you must ultimately ask yourself is: ‘Does the fact that your friends are leaving bother you, or do you feel a personal guilt due to the problems that you are facing yourself?’”
“I mean, do you think I actually am just upset at myself? That maybe nothing I’m saying has anything to do with my friends?”
“I can’t tell you that. Only you know the answer.”
“Right. Uh, well. What should I do to help myself then?”
“I can’t tell you that either, I’m afraid.”
“Oh. I see.”
“Why don’t we talk about your childhood a bit? What were your parents like?”
Sawyer remembered a vague picture of a tall, rat-like woman and her short and thick-set husband. She had cried over most things, and gotten angry over the rest. Some inexplicable sense of dread filled him, but he did not know why it was that his palms suddenly had begun to sweat.
“My childhood was great. I mean, my parents had their issues, sure, they got divorced when I was nine, but I was just fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Silently, he cussed this woman for questioning him. A wave of mixed hatred and annoyance washed over him as he realized that he could not lie and be believed unquestioningly.
“You don’t believe me?”
She stopped short, and he noticed a flicker of fear cross her features. So she was afraid of doing this wrong. Perhaps she was new to this office, was fearful of being fired. If he were to use this to his advantage, he could get whatever he wanted.
“Oh no, no, no, no,” She blurted, “I don’t know why I said that. That was silly of me. Of course you’re sure, I-I was just being thoughtless.”
“It’s quite alright.”
“I-uh… Alright, well if your childhood was perfectly fine, why don’t we talk about some of your relationships? Did you have a first crush, first relationship that made any sort of imprint on you? Like, uh, to give you an example, maybe you had feelings for someone like a classmate? Or a babysitter?”
Sawyer Bennett froze where he was. Bright flashes of light revealed a grimy shower, steam coating the mirror. There was auburn hair, and a crooked smile. Naked breasts, and hands that touched him. Distant screams pierced his ears, a child’s scream. There was begging. Someone was pleading to be allowed out of the bathroom. But why? You’ll thank me one day. Why? Don’t tell your parents. There was a sound like shattering glass, and then everything was black and still.