She sat across from Ray, holding her pad and one of the pencils that Sister Rebecca Katherine had gotten for her. She wasn't sketching. Instead, she had her full attention on her doctor. She looked at him, quizzically.
He continued, "I wanted to ask you about The Time of Black."
She frowned, and then, she shrugged.
"I know. You can't remember a lot of that. I thought I could help you try."
He noticed that immediately, her hands began to shake, and she wrung them together to try and stop it. He waited for her response, and then saw her slide her chair toward his desk, placing the pad down between them. She looked into his eyes, and hers were filled with fear. She shrugged one shoulder, timidly.
"Are you willing to try? It might really help you, Bea."
She picked up her pencil, and hesitated. She began etching a fluidly perfect scroll on the page, and made it into the curled stem of a flower. Under it, she wrote, AFRAID.
"I realize that. But you're safe here. If it's too much, or you get too afraid, we can stop talking about it. Does that sound okay?"
She frowned again, and her bottom lip was trembling.
He said, "Perhaps you're not ready."
She wrote. I am confused. I want to be ready. I want to fix things. I want to maybe get better. Todd said if I get better, I can live with him and Blair and the children. And Mixie.
"Mixie. Is that the dog?"
"He wants you to live with them. That would be wonderful. You could spend time with him and the children and see them grow up."
It's too late for Jack, he's already grown, and Starr, too. She has her own baby.
"Yes, she does. She's a grown woman, and Jack is almost a man."
But there's Sam. He's a lovely little boy. And there's Ray. Named after you. He's very cute. He reminds me so much of Todd.
She began to cry. Ray said, "It's all right, Bea. Ray should remind you of Todd. He's Todd's child."
He's almost three.
Ray was aware of the significance of the age. "I know. He's growing fast. And the faster you are better, the faster you can be there to see him grow, and get to know Sam, and the new baby, Blair, Jack, and Mixie."
She smiled through tears. I'm so afraid.
I'll try, Dr. Martino.
"Call me Ray, Bea. I promise I'll be here the whole way. No matter what."
Todd opened the door. Aiden was standing there, hands in his pockets, looking rather sheepish. "Am I still welcome here, Pally?"
"Yes. You're welcome here. Come in, it's cold."
He entered the foyer, and said, "I still can't get over the place. Much like a mansion. For rich people."
"Well, I guess that might include us."
"I thought about everything ya said today, and I want ya to know, I am considering it. Ya made some sense."
"I'm glad I made some. Seems like a step in the right direction. So what can I do for you?"
"I . . . have been thinking about it. Thought maybe a few more words with ya might give me the strength I need to delve into this. It won't be pretty. I fear the physical pain more than anything else."
"All right, how can I help?"
"Listen, I suppose."
Todd saw that the man was seeking a way to move forward, and having been there himself, he led him into the morning room. They sat in the comfortable living space, and Todd offered him something to eat.
"No thank ya, not right now." Aiden said. Todd noticed him looking around the room, and then sitting forward and running his hand along a few family photo albums. "I don't think I can eat when I am dealing with memories."
"Hmf. I can relate to that."
"Ya said ya've had terrible bouts with memory loss. Were ya injured? I mean, ya have the scar." He traced it on his own face in the same place as Todd's.
Todd leaned back. "No, I wasn't injured, that way. I mean, there are reasons I blocked it out, but this injury wasn't about that. This was well-deserved."
"I get the feeling ya weren't always the man ya are now."
"You'd be feeling right."
"Ah. But, the reasons, the blocking out. Are ya saying the mind can do such a thing?"
"Yeah, I am saying that."
"I always thought I just didn't remember, and never would."
"Maybe, I guess. Depends on the physical injury and what it did to your brain. If you have brain damage that's extensive enough, I guess that could block things."
"But not you."
"No. My mind protected me, all my life."
"And ya were ready?"
"I guess. Yeah. All of the sudden, I just decided somewhere in here," he pointed to his temple, "that it had to come out. I feel . . . different, since it did. Even though it was so hard." Aiden didn't answer for a moment. He looked at the albums on the table, and continued to run his fingers along the edge of one of them. Todd said, "Go ahead, if you want."
Aiden opened the album. He'd chosen the one of Starr first. He said, "She was a sweet child, eh?"
"Yes. But if you knew Starr, she definitely was her father's daughter. She's had her feisty times."
"She's pregnant here, so young," he said, as he fingered through the pages.
"I was away. In captivity. Yeah, she was young."
"Your wife seems the same, Paddy. Hasn't aged much."
"No, I guess she hasn't."
He closed the album, and looked to a second. Before opening it, he said, "How did ya get the scar, if ya don't mind saying?"
Todd said, "Like I said, I deserved it. Let's just say that. A woman hit me with a pipe. In an alley."
Aiden's eyebrow went up. "Ya'r still ashamed. That means that ya never wanted to be what ya were."
Todd said, "I don't think I ever wanted to be the man I was, but I was him, regardless. I spent time in prison. I've spent most of my life suffering, different ways."
"Seems like more than enough. Like Thornhart said. He alluded to . . . ya hurting people."
"Hmf. People. Okay, yeah."
Aiden opened the album. It was the book of his early life with Blair. Upon seeing his photo, with his goatee and long hair, Aiden pulled the book closer. He said, "I know ya, Paddy. I knew I'd seen ya before. Now, I know where."
"We'll start slow, and we'll never do more than you can handle," Ray said.
I'm not sure what I can handle,
He smiled. "All right, we'll begin very slowly, then. What can you remember, before the Time of Black. Try and get as close to it as you can."
Oh, I'm in The Evil One's commune. It's a sunny day, lots of fresh air. We're in the mountains somewhere. I've remembered this one many times. Ray, I believe that The Evil One may not have been responsible for hurting me. I don't think he was the one. Not anymore. I've dreamed of this, often. I think . . .
Ray paused. Not wanting to push her or plant thoughts in her mind, he strategically waited. She continued with her pencil. I think I was in love with him.
Ray said, "All right. That's very, very good, Bea. His name was Mitch. Mitch Laurence. Do you remember that?"
Names were always bad. I always had trouble with them after The Time of Black. I had to make up my own. But yes, now I remember that. His name was Mitch. I loved him, and he loved me. I was so confused before about who hurt me and when, I think things were just jumbled together, like soup.
"Hmf. You're right. That's just what it was like. Hard to pick things out and separate them."
"Can you get any closer to The Time of Black?" he asked, softly.
She closed her eyes again, and this time, it was quiet a bit longer. Finally, her eyes popped open and she scrambled for the pencil, writing furiously.
This scares me. My heart is beating so fast. I am not sure I can do this, Ray. It is frightening.
"I understand. If you can't, then wait. I understand, Bea."
She sat, staring past him for a moment and then began to write. He took me.
"Who took you, Bea?"
Peter. The One Who Hurt Us. He took me away from Mitch. Mitch did not beat me into The Time of Black. Peter took me away from him. Peter took me . . .
She suddenly sucked air into her lungs so that it was audible, and then covered her mouth, and shook her head no. Trembling over most of her body, she continued to shake her head back and forth in a gesture of denial. Ray reached out and grabbed her other hand. Holding it, he said, "It's all right. You're in my office, and nothing can hurt you."
She began to cry, and slightly rock. After a few moments, she pulled her hand free from his and took the pencil. Shaking as she wrote, she composed herself long enough to scribble her words, then pushed the pad toward him, and broke down, her head on her arm, both resting on his desk.
I remember. I remember everything.
Todd waited. Aiden said, "I knew there was something about ya . . ."
Todd couldn't deny that he had had the same feeling when meeting Aiden. Something was familiar about the man, but hadn't been able to place it. Aiden began, "I left home when I was sixteen, wanting to branch out on me own. I went into town in Innishcreg and got a job at the Wild Swan. I was a barkeep. Worked for a man named Caneelly."
Todd interrupted, "White-haired guy, secretly a killer and terrorist for The Men of 21?"
"That's the one, Paddy. I worked in that bar for a few years before I realized I was in deep in the knowing. I had to stay apart from my family for fear that something would happen to them. So, I never went back. I saw ya. In the Wild Swan. Ya were . . . getting a gift, from a woman. She was a pretty lass, long hair, it wasn't Blair. She was handing ya something . . ."
"A Celtic cross," he said, remembering, and hugged himself with his arms. "That was . . . Marty."
"She gave ya the gift, and I was watching. Ya took it, but ya seemed different, sort of standoffish. I think that's why I remembered it so clearly. I must have been nineteen or twenty then, eh? Right before I left and joined up with the RA21 to fight the evils of The Men of 21. Caneelly had told me too much, tried to get me to go on his side. Promised me riches. Said he saw promise in me, he did."
"I can see him doing just that."
"He was part of it all along."
Aiden asked, "Who was the woman?"
"Thornhart's wife. She wasn't then, but she is now. That's where they first met. It's also where he and I first met. And, it's where I was shot in the back after being mistaken for him and left for dead."
Aiden paused. "My God. I remember that story, among the patrons. An American was shot dead in front of the tavern. That was you, Man?"
"That was me. I thought I could be a hero. Let's say I had things to make up to Marty. I thought I could lead the guys who were after Thornhart away, or trick them. They shot me dead in the back. Blair was waiting for me. It was two days after our wedding . . ."
"The one in these photos, with the golden balloons?"
"Yes. I left her to go make it up to Marty. Blair was pregnant with Starr. She had to deliver her without me. She thought I was dead. . . Maybe I was."
"All to make it up to the woman, eh? Marty, ya said?"
"I won't ask what it was you were making up for, but it must have been deeply paining ya."
Todd didn't answer. Instead, he said, "So, for you, we can work backward. My first memories of some childhood shit could curl your hair, but I never remembered it until later. My revelations went from my teenage years, backward. Maybe for you, it would be the same."
"Maybe. I can go back to the day I left my home, I guess. That would be the next thing."
"It would. Logically."
"I can do that. But Lad, how did ya face all this? What made ya do it?"
"Necessity, mostly. My mind wouldn't hide it any more. Things happened, over time, that brought it out. Being held captive was part of it. The handlers used my childhood against me. Things they knew . . . were done to me."
Todd kept going. "Then, my life with my children and Blair. Being taken again, by Leona, losing my daughter, bringing down Hesser, and finding my mother again. Trying to avenge what happened to her."
"I see. Were ya ready for all these memories?"
"Are we ever? Not sure about that. But it was worth it, even though it was hard. It's all me. All of it helps me understand me. And you'll do the same. At least that's what I believe. But I didn't always. I've come to that understanding after hitting rock bottom for so long. It took me years to be able to feel things."
Aiden looked directly into Todd's face, and after a short silence, he said, "Terrible things were done to ya, with The Men of 21, but terrible things were done to ya as a boy, weren't they?"
Todd shrugged. "I guess."
Aiden closed the album. "I think I need to go back. To my home, on Innishcreg. I think I need it, to help me remember. Will ya help me?"
"Why not? Haven't been to old Innishcreg in years. Can't say that I missed it, but it probably missed me."
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