Book One of the Transformation Series
By Ann Gimpel
Lara McInnis fidgeted in the ginger-colored overstuffed chair taking up most of one corner of her cozy psychotherapy office. Schooling her face to neutrality, she tried to gin up some energy to support her quarreling clients. Bethany Beauchamp wasn’t saying all that much, though; and her husband was cataloging her faults, clicking them off one by one on his fat fingers. Wonder why they really wanted to come here? Lara asked herself, searching for an opportunity to intervene. Aha, there it was.
“Mister Beauchamp,” she murmured, voice pitched purposefully low so he’d have to stop talking in order to hear her.
“Yes, what?” He sounded irritated, voice scratchy from too many cigarettes. “You interrupted me.”
“Yes, I know. But I was interested in what you were saying and I didn’t quite catch that last part before I, um, interrupted. Might you be so kind as to repeat it for me?” Oh-oh. Watch the sarcasm.
Ken Beauchamp straightened self-importantly in his chair, carefully slicking back a couple of mouse-brown hairs that had fallen out of place in his too-careful comb over. Uncrossing short chubby legs encased in expensive suiting, he turned so he could look right at her with close-set blue eyes. Broken blood vessels along the sides of his nose suggested a far-too-intimate relationship with alcoholic beverages.
“We pay you quite well. The least you could do is be attentive,” he snarled.
She nodded, offering a silent invitation to speak to her rather than to his wife who looked exhausted. Bethany’s eight-month pregnancy dragged at her tall slender frame and dark smudges under her hazel eyes detracted from her showgirl beauty. Light auburn hair fell in limp curls to her shoulders. Though only in her early thirties, today she looked ten years older.
After an imperceptible pause Ken took the bait and, rather than repeating his last statement as requested, he started in on Lara. “Well, Doctor, you’ve been late for our appointments twice out of the ten we’ve scheduled. None of the things you’ve suggested work and our marriage isn’t any better than it was the day we walked in here.” He sat back in his chair, a smug smile on his florid face.
“Which things have you tried?” It was a struggle to keep her features pleasant. She was coming to detest Ken Beauchamp and suspected his wife felt much the same. Stealing a glance at her other patient, Lara noticed Bethany seemed to be trying not to cry. Reaching over, Lara handed her the box of Kleenex she always kept next to her chair. “Mister Beauchamp?” she urged. “What things have you tried? I need to know so I can work with you to figure out what might be more effective.” Or, so I can find an excuse to terminate you from my practice.
Ken’s face reddened even more. “I’m sure we’ve tried some of them,” he said defensively. Shifting his bulky body around in his chair, he shot his uncomfortable wife an intimidating look. “Beth, the good Doctor here is asking what we’ve tried.”
Withering under her husband’s knife-like stare, Bethany burst into tears, choking on the word, “n-nothing,” as she buried her face in her hands. Outside of her soft sobbing, the corner office, morning sun streaming through leaded-glass window panes, was absolutely silent.
Lara leaned forward, her dark luminous eyes moving from Ken to Bethany. “It’s like I told both of you when you first came here, I can’t fix your marriage. Only you can do that. But, for there to be any improvement, you have to be willing to listen to one another.
“We’re nearly at the end of today’s hour, but frankly there’s not much reason for you to spend your money coming here week after week just so I can listen to you argue and try to referee. What I want you to do is this: go home and have an honest discussion, this morning while everything’s still fresh. Figure out if you really want to continue seeing me. If the answer is ‘yes’, call me and come on back next week. If the answer is ‘no’, well. . .” She let her last words hang in the air, realizing she was hoping to never have to see Mister Beauchamp again.
“Uh, here.” Ken rustled around in an inner jacket pocket coming up with a well-creased piece of paper. “Sign this.”
Taking the paper from him, she flipped it open. Damn the man. He’d been court-ordered to attend marriage counseling and he hadn’t told her. In fact, neither of them had. Fuming, she hastily checked the box verifying attendance at ten sessions, signed the document and handed it back to him. “You should have told me, Mister Beauchamp. We might have done things a bit differently.” We sure would have, since I’d have referred you to another therapist. He just looked at her as he snatched up the paper, a feral smile on his unattractive face.
“Thank you, Doctor McInnis.” Bethany’s voice was still clotted with tears. Planting her feet beneath her ample belly, she lurched to her feet. Standing, Lara held out her hand and Bethany latched onto it like a lifeline. The two women looked down at Ken who hadn’t made the slightest effort to leave his chair. He was chewing on his lower lip, his face the color of a boiled lobster.
Acting on impulse, Lara let go of Bethany’s hand and gestured to her. “I’ll just walk your wife down to the ladies’ room, Mister Beauchamp, so she can put some cold water on her face. She’ll meet you at the car.”
Pulling the office door open, she exchanged a meaningful glance with her receptionist. “Arabel, could you please see Mister Beauchamp out?” Without waiting for a reply, she took Bethany’s elbow, pushing her out into the hallway. As soon as they were safely out of the office, Lara turned to Bethany. “He hurts you, doesn’t he?” Her voice was the barest of whispers as she remembered the little she’d been able to drag out of Ken about his obscenely violent childhood.
A single tear leaked from one of Bethany’s eyes as she mumbled, “I, uh, can’t, um, shouldn’t. . .” They had reached the bathroom and were both inside the tiny enclosure. Lara waited, regarding her patient intently with well-honed inner senses, but Bethany maintained an edgy silence. Lara could see the ragged darkened edges of Bethany’s aura dragging around her lank hair; and suddenly she knew much of what the woman was unwilling to divulge. Sadly, the incandescence typical of pregnant women was all but missing.
Reaching into a pocket of her plaid wool skirt, Lara pulled out a pen and one of her cards, scribbling a number on the back. “If things get bad, make an excuse, any excuse. Tell him you’re going out for a walk. Bring your cell phone and call this number. They help women like you.”
Bethany’s hand snaked out and she took the card; then a frantic look washed over her. “But what if he finds the number?” she whimpered.
“It doesn’t matter. They won’t talk to him.” Lara laid a hand on Bethany’s arm. “You probably need to get down to your car. Maybe you could come in and talk to me by yourself.”
“He’d never let me.” Dull voice matching her dead eyes, Bethany let herself out into the corridor and began walking, with the awkward gait of the very-pregnant, towards the stairs.
Back in her office, Lara stopped at Arabel’s desk. “Who else do I have today?”
Hooking her thumb out the door, Arabel asked, “What’s up with them? The mister, he seemed pretty put out. For a minute there I didn’t think I was gonna git him out of the office.”
“You know I can’t discuss patients with you, dear. Or, at least we have to pretend we don’t talk about them.” Lara smiled fondly at the elderly Black woman who had been her sole office help for over twenty years. Arabel was dressed in her usual white blouse, navy gabardine skirt and black flats. An ancient maroon sweater hung over the back of her secretarial chair. Hair in a modified mostly-gray afro, she had a piquant sense of humor and a quick temper that was sparking from her nearly-black eyes.
“Hmmmmph. . .” Arabel bristled, mouth twisted into a frown. “You know I got nobody I’d be tellin’ anything to. Never have.”
“Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to your feelings.” Lara held out a conciliatory hand. “Truce?”
Arabel cocked her head to one side. The corners of her mouth twitched as she reached up to shake hands. “Truce. Never could stay mad at you. Not for long, anyways.” Turning back to the computer, she brought up the day’s schedule on the computer monitor. “David Roth cancelled, so you’re free till one thirty. Then you got folk packed in here till close to eight.”
Lara walked around the desk so she could look at the screen. Groaning audibly, she glanced at her watch. “Okay, I’m going to swing by the gym and then grab some lunch. Call me if anything comes up.”
“You got it.” Arabel’s voice followed Lara into her office where she grabbed her purse and her BlackBerry, locked her client file drawers and let herself out the back door.
Lara’s office was in an old, pale blue Victorian on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. She’d bought the building for a song about ten years before because someone had thought there were problems with the foundation. There had been some structural deficiencies, but they’d proven relatively trivial to fix. Split into four offices, her building was home to an architect and a CPA on the first floor, and herself and a psychiatrist on the second. Walking through a carpet of leaves that had fallen off the Madrona trees thickly lining East Avenue, Lara hit the clicker and heard the answering chirp from her nearby BMW.
As she drove, Lara thought about the Beauchamps. She’d spent an unusually long time—at least the first five sessions—gathering a history from them. One problem had been Ken’s reticence to disclose much of anything. Persistence and caginess had paid off, though, and he’d told her far more than he’d meant to about the French-Irish gang-affiliated father who’d turned him out as a child prostitute at the age of eight. His mother had abandoned the family when he was so young he had no memories of her at all, just oodles of anger Lara suspected he generalized to all women. . .including her. By contrast, Bethany’s meager life story had tumbled out with very little prodding. Not that hers read much better than her husband’s.
Fears for Bethany nagged at her. “What if they want to come back?” she asked herself softly. “Should I see them?” Pulling into the parking lot for her fitness center, Lara knew she’d turn that question over in her mind as she moved through her workout. Once she lost her objectivity—and any empathy she’d tried to gin up for Ken had long since evaporated—it became progressively more difficult to work with clients. She’d learned some hard lessons over the years, including that it was usually better to cut the cord sooner rather than later.
“Hi Tony!” Dropping her membership card onto the glass countertop, she snagged the proffered key and towel from the tall well-sculpted front desk attendant and headed down the lushly carpeted stairs.
“Have a good workout, Doc! Power’s on today so all the machines are available,” Tony’s throaty voice trailed after her.
Pulling her longish coppery hair into a snug ponytail, she was just pocketing her locker key when she heard her phone trilling its Bach Etude. Wrinkling her forehead in irritation, she stuffed the key back into its hole, retrieved the phone and barked, “Doctor McInnis,” without bothering to look at the screen.
“Hey there, Lara. It’s me.” The clipped British accent of Trevor, her long time, live-in lover, came through the tinny cellular system. “Sorry to bother you, love, but the power’s off again. . .at least on Queen Anne Hill.” He paused. “Thought you’d want to know.”
She found she was gripping the plastic of her BlackBerry. “Again? But that’s the third time since, let’s see, last Wednesday. How long did they say this time? Or did they? Or did you even call? What about the food in the freezer?” She stopped abruptly, realizing her voice had become unnecessarily shrill. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m just worried, that’s all.”
“I know, I know. That’s why I called you.” There was a hesitation. “Guess I’m worried too, and I just wanted someone to talk to.”
She closed her eyes, summoning an image of him with his Nordic features and summer-blue eyes. He was a flight attendant for KLM airlines, which meant he only worked about fifteen days each month. She’d met him ages ago on a return flight from Europe where she’d been completing the last leg of her analytic training at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Exhausted from a grueling six weeks of seeing patients, she’d been half-asleep in her narrow airline seat and he’d solicitously brought her tea and cookies. Lara wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but he’d come home with her that night and they’d been together ever since. Those first few years had been more than a bit rocky. In fact, she’d run screaming from their home a time or two, so she wouldn’t kill him on the spot. But something indefinable—in fact she still didn’t truly understand what it was—had always drawn her back.
Sinking into one of the wicker chairs in a corner of the locker room, she felt a less-than-vague sense of unease tugging at her. “What do you think it means? Have you any idea?” There was a very long silence, so long she finally said, “Trev, you still there?”
“Yes, Lara, I am.” His accent was more pronounced, so she knew he was debating whether or not to give voice to his thoughts. Finally, he blurted, “I think we’re really running out of oil this time. Not like all those other times when the government stock-piled it and then released it after the price sky-rocketed. You wouldn’t know about this, since you’re such a news-phobe and I gas up the cars, but it was really hard to find petrol last month. Damned near impossible, actually.
“If what I suspect is true, everything that takes oil to run will eventually go tits-up.” He paused to draw what sounded like a frazzled breath before adding, “We might have been all right here in the northwest with all our hydroelectric power, except the rest of the country’s been draining power off our grid to compensate for their shortages. That’s been in all the papers since our state lawmakers have been kicking up a fuss in D.C. Anyway,” his voice was brusque, “I’m cooking up what I can from the freezer. We can talk more about this when you come home. If you get any breaks today, think about how you’d feel if we had to leave the city. Whoops, my cell’s ringing. See you tonight.”
Slipping her phone back into her locker, Lara walked towards the aerobics room and jumped on one of the elliptical trainers. She wanted to come to some decision about Bethany and her husband, but the conversation with Trevor kept intruding. Damn it, she thought irritably. He hung up before I could even react to that whole doomsday scenario he laid out. Hmmmmph! Probably didn’t want to give me a chance to talk him out of it. Meantime, I’m supposed to think about leaving the city? Where the hell would we go?
Mopping at sweat that was trickling down her face, Lara glanced at her reflection in the mirrors covering almost every wall. Staring back at her was a tall too-thin redhead with freckles covering every inch of exposed skin. Her angular face, with its prominent nose and chin, glistened in the reflected light. Moving to the treadmill, she set it for six-and-a-half miles an hour and ran hard for ten minutes. Gasping, she slowly backed off on the speed, while increasing the angle. Ten minutes after that, she sucked down what felt like a quart of water from the drinking fountain and stopped by the squat rack to do three sets. Finishing with twenty pull-ups, she headed for the locker room and the showers.
Briskly toweling off, she felt animated and dynamic, the problems with power outages and the Ken Beauchamps of the world temporarily pushed to a back burner. Nothing like a few endorphins, she told herself, inhaling deeply. Making plans to get a smoothie-to-go with extra protein powder from the small on-site restaurant, she contemplated the afternoon’s lineup of patients.
Out of the six scheduled, there was one analytic client, two angry teenagers: a cutter and a bulimic, another couple and two lonely middle-aged women, one depressed, the other anxious. Too bad it’s unethical to introduce patients to one another. . .outside of a therapy group that is. Lara chuckled softly to herself. She loved doing analytic work, but there weren’t many who really wanted to delve that deeply into themselves. Not to mention the cost. For analysis to be truly effective, patients needed to come three, or even four, times a week. “Magic theater, not for everyone,” she mumbled as she picked up her smoothie, a tofu bar and some green tea before heading for her car. The sun, an elusive phenomenon in Seattle, was nowhere in sight and it was raining lightly. While not cold, the day held some of the crispness typical of mid-October. Her phone chimed again but she ignored it, figuring she’d be back at her office in less than five minutes.
“Can you tell me how you feel before you start cutting?” Lara took in the overweight seventeen-year-old, sitting catty-corner from her, arms and legs covered with a network of fine white scars from years of self mutilation. Caren would have been attractive, with her silky black hair, blue eyes and porcelain skin, were it not for the miasma of absolute misery and defeat radiating outwards from her like a spider’s web set to trap the unwary.
“I suppose I could, but I don’t really want to,” the teenager spat. “You don’t care about me. You see me because my stepmother pays you. I think this is a fucking waste of time.” Folding her arms across her chest, she stared defiantly at Lara.
Lara watched her patient intently. Caren squirmed in her chair, eyes glued to the floor. “Caren, would you look at me, please?”
“Why?” The girl sounded sullen.
“Because I want you to see I’m telling you the truth when I say I do care about you. You’ve had a perfectly rotten life and you have every right not to trust anybody.”
Caren risked a sidelong glance at her. “How do you know anything about my life? I haven’t told you very much.”
Lara was silent for several seconds. Even without her ability to read auras, she’d have been able to figure out a likely script for Caren’s early life: molested, physically abused and emotionally neglected. “What we really need to talk about is a plan so you have something to do besides carving on yourself when you feel bad. Once we can come up with that, we can talk about anything you’d like.”
“Can I take a bathroom break?”
Lara nodded. “Second door on the left outside of my office.” Watching the teenager leave, she wondered if she’d made a mistake. What if she has razors with her and cuts herself in my bathroom? How do I explain that to her parents? Making a conscientious effort to breathe, Lara glanced at her watch deciding to give Caren five minutes before going after her. Trying to summon her elusive ability to predict future events, she came up dry while wishing fervently there was a shaman somewhere who could teach her about her psychic abilities. “Yes, but first you have to be willing to tell people you can do those things,” she muttered. “You’ve always been afraid they’d cart you off to the loony bin.”
With just ten seconds to spare, Caren sidled back through the door. She had a mulish look on her face and Lara knew her young patient would bolt if given the slightest excuse.
“Thanks for coming back,” Lara offered, attempting to soothe the alienated girl.
“Thanks for trusting me to leave.” Caren resettled herself in one of the comfortable chairs across from Lara. The barest of smiles ghosted across her face and she took a deep breath. “This is really hard to talk about. . .”
“Yes, I know. But nothing you say leaves here.”
“That’s almost not the point,” the teenager mumbled, twisting in her chair. “Talking makes it hurt more.”
Lara nodded and, as she looked at Caren, scenes flashed quickly, one after the other: a woman holding a small screaming girl down then doing unspeakable things, brutal beatings, cigarettes pressed into tender flesh. Lara closed her eyes, sucking down a surreptitious ragged breath. “Yes, it does hurt to talk about it,” she agreed. “But that’s the only way out. If you keep everything bottled up inside, you’ll just keep cutting. . . The first part is always hardest. After that it won’t be quite so bad.”
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” Caren risked a sideways glance at her.
“Look at me. That’s how you find out if someone is telling you the truth. It’s reflected in their face.”
Caren raised crystalline-blue eyes. Lara could see a scared little girl, living behind teenaged bravado, desperately wanting to trust someone. . .anyone, but frightened half out of her mind at taking that first small step. After a very long time, Caren began hesitantly, in a voice so low Lara had to strain to hear her. “It feels like I have to cut or something terrible will happen. I try to fight it, but I always lose. . .”
“What do the voices that live in your head tell you?”
“How do you know about them?” Caren sounded rattled. Fear flitted across her face; and she folded her arms protectively across her chest. “I didn’t tell you. . .”
“Because everybody who cuts has voices that tell them things, before they tell them to cut. It’s okay to talk to me about them. The voices don’t mean you’re crazy.”
Caren’s eyes closed. Her head dropped back against the chair. As Lara watched, one tear escaped, rolling down the girl’s pale face. Time passed. Lara knew it was impossible to force anyone to reveal their secrets. Clients had to come to an inner juncture where they believed the pain of disclosure would be worth the risk. Fleetingly, she thought about how lonely and isolated the teenager must be. Just like I was. . .
“Doctor McInnis?” Caren’s voice was thready, almost not there at all.
“You said everybody who cuts has voices telling them things. Have you helped other people like me?”
Lara nodded, then realized Caren couldn’t see her because her eyes were still closed. “Yes,” she said simply. “I have.”
“Did they stop cutting?”
“Some of them did.”
The girl seemed to consider this. She opened her eyes, shiny with unshed tears, and looked pleadingly at Lara. “You must be telling me the truth,” she said in a choked voice.
“How can you tell?” Lara smiled gently and, she hoped, encouragingly.
“Otherwise you would have told me all your other stupid, fucked-up cutter patients got well.”
“You’re not stupid, or fucked-up.”
“Yes, I am. And fat and ugly too.” Caren was struggling not to cry.
“That’s what the voices tell you, isn’t it?”
Caren nodded miserably, giving in to a flood of emotion.
“It’s all right,” Lara murmured. “Cry. This is a good place for your tears. Here’s more Kleenex. I think you’re courageous. Maybe we can re-program those voices to say good things.”
Caren shook her head vehemently. “Nothing good. . .never.” The words choked out between sobs.
“I want you to take a few deep breaths,” Lara urged, waiting for the girl’s emotional storm to subside. “Now I want you to listen, just listen. None of what happened to you was your fault. And it doesn’t matter how I know these things.” Lara held up a hand to still Caren’s protests. “Not the molest, not the beatings, none of it. You were a child. None of those things happened because you were fat or ugly or stupid. They happened because your caregivers were sadly damaged. . .”