Chapter 1


“Grace Simms,” the psychotherapist announced, picking up the phone on the fourth ring. “Yes, Miss Knowles, I’ve been expecting your call,” she said, glancing at the clock. Her ear pressed to the phone, she nodded. Inside, her guts tightened. “I’m on my way.”
Hanging up with Miss Knowles from the hospital, Grace’s emotions tumbled past the point of self-control. Sobs wracked her body in waves. “It’s time.” The woman words echoed, circling like vultures inside her head.
It’s time.
Agony wrestled Grace to the floor where she crumbled in a heap of sadness and baggy clothes. She searched her brain for a reset button, one that would make her misery disappear and sensibility return. “Not fair!” she cried hoarsely.

If such a button existed, wouldn’t she have pressed it long ago?

Life
changed for Grace Simms the day she was taken hostage. Fear tarried at the edge of her sanity. Despair threatened to drag her into an abyss. Not a day went by that she didn’t envision Candy pulling the trigger…the horror of that one final moment indelibly etched on her psyche before losing consciousness…the moment when blood, bone and brain soaked Sergeant Garret Weston’s chest…the moment before her world turned black… he’s dead.

No. Not dead.

She later thanked God for the bullet proof vest that saved Garret’s life, then cursed Him one week later when a drug dealer’s bullet twisted their fate. And yet…

Destiny prevailed.

Driving west on highway 50, Sacramento stretched ahead in panoramic splendor. The sun dipped low on the horizon. Golden rays pierced coral rouge rendering a Michael Angelo masterpiece. Motorists, rubbernecked to catch a glimpse, but as carnelian and crimson stained the sky, Grace’s heart began to pound.
Breathe.
She pressed the gas pedal harder.
Breathe.
She needed to escape before another flashback consumed her.
Bloodspray.
Anxiety waned as the burning globe disappeared behind the hills. Time became indistinguishable. This feeling can’t last forever, she ruminated, stuck in a nothing place. No moon. No stars. Just grey...
You’re tired, her voice of reason professed as she stifled a yawn. Very tired. Reoccurring dreams plagued her sleep. A violation to the sanity of a trained professional she concurred, but now is not the time to dwell. The day would be over soon enough and she had more important things to dread.

A blue sign with white letters pointed the way to Sutter General. Grace’s patterned performance led to section B, where she parked at the end of row four. Her long legs stretched until she found her footing, but after locking her car door, a familiar feeling of foreboding reared its ugly head. Chills crept along her spine. Goosebumps gathered her flesh.
Someone is watching me. She turned, slowly.
No one there.
Apprehension quickened her pace to the diagonal striped path leading to sliding double doors. The security guard on duty provided safety, but relief was short-lived. “All firearms are prohibited” blared over the loud speaker pushing Grace’s post-traumatic stress syndrome to the brink. She cringed, reliving the sound of the single gun blast. Keep going.
A high-pitched “ping” announced the elevator’s arrival, yet, she stood frozen in her thoughts.
A murderer lurking inside would be a welcome reprieve, a menacing voice whispered from the damaged part of her brain. Let’s end it, right here, right now.
Stop it! A voice of reasonable health commanded. No options here.
The door opened.
She stepped inside to face her demons.
No one there.

Arriving at the fourth floor, her body automatically veered to the right, past the nurse’s station, and then to the left.
Not fair. She stood in the doorway of room 408 and fought for composure. Too soon.
Inside, machines orchestrated a song for the dying. Oxygen hissed, a heart monitor beeped, a compressor added its own rhythmic beat,
thunkwhoosh, thunkwhoosh, mechanically raising and lowering the chest of the man whistling through a tube. No one volunteered to hum along.
“Hello, my love.” Grace went to the heavy curtain framing a steel cased window to draw the chord, but reconsidered. Too much gloom already
, she thought, opting for cold, florescent light.
Once the room was to her liking, she removed a copy of “Alice in Wonderland” from Garret’s nightstand and took her place in the red chair. She began reading aloud.
I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!” “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll


Ten pages into the chapter, the resident chaplain entered the room. Grace placed the prayer card between the pages of her book and lifted her gaze.
“He was a good man,” the priest said, closing the door behind him.
“So I’m told.”
“You love him.”
“Yes. Too bad love isn’t enough to bring him back.”
“Love is powerful. One never knows how deeply it flows.”
“So they say…”
“I believe it’s God’s way.” The chaplain moved closer, his tone consoling. “Love permeates at a cellular level…”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“You will in time,” he said, patting her shoulder. “When love finds you again, and grows in your heart.”
Grace shrugged his hand from her shoulder. Running her finger along the tubing taped to Garret’s wrist she inquired, “What time are they going to pull the plug?”
“You have an hour. Be with him. Love him. Have no regrets.”
“Thank you,” she replied, curtly. “Alice is about to fall down the rabbit hole. I don’t want Garret to miss out.”
“Anger won’t bring him back.”
““God’s way” won’t either.” Grace wiped fresh tears.
“Duty called.” The man spoke softly, “Garret Weston vowed to keep the streets safe--- for
you and me.”
Her lower lip began to quiver, “We were supposed to have dinner that night…”
“You didn’t shoot him–”
“No. I didn’t shoot him, Father,” she said, her chin wet with tears and trembling, her words bitter, “But I’d sell my soul to have the person who
did lying in this bed instead of him!”
“Justice will be served.”
Grace refrained from throwing the book across the room. She wanted to scream. For what?
Garret can’t hear you. Nothing has changed in three months.

“His family made the decision, Grace. It’s time to let him go.”


* * *


Depression held Grace in an ugly grip all evening. Imagining life without Garret proved too hard to bare. Sleep didn’t come easy, and when it did, her subconscious hit “replay” and the nightmare began…

She dreamt she was leaving the hospital where she had worked as a psychotherapist for several years. The corridor leading to the exit was draped in plastic.
When did construction begin? She hadn’t received notice. Strange.

Following others, who seemed to know the way, she entered an unfamiliar area…a huge door opened wide. People walked in, people walked out. She entered, hoping to get her bearings.
Where am I? Tall cement walls…steel beams looming overhead. A garage? Her eyes were drawn to the black liquid, pooled on the floor. Oil? She moved closer. No. Blood. The people milling around didn’t notice the blood. Nor did they pay attention to her screams when she ran away.
Back in the corridor, a coffee kiosk appeared to the right.
It wasn’t there before. Panic. How could she be lost? She knew the hospital like the back of her hand. She ran towards the vender seeking directions, when suddenly, the light around her turned dismal, surreal. She became keenly aware of the man dressed in dirty, tattered clothes. She thought she recognized the man, despite his long greasy hair, scraggly beard and gnarly fingers. Dad? The man pushed a rickety grocery cart past an old woman wearing a limp, cotton house dress. The old woman shooed something from her shoulder– something only she could see.
Mom!

Without warning there came commotion--- two adolescents tumbled towards her. Her mind had difficulty interpreting the scene. A young girl with two heads, stuck below the waist of a screaming boy. “Stop!” he cried. “Stop! It’s gonna go!” The two headed girl ignored the boy’s pleas as they fell to the ground at Grace’s feet. The two heads laughed, the boy zipped his pants.
Grace winced against flashes of bright light. >Click< Flash. >Click< Flash. >Click< Flash.
Sickened by what she saw, Grace lashed out at the girl. “What are you doing?”
“Shut-up,” the girl snarled.
Disgusted, Grace wanted to flee the scene, but her conscience intervened.
Stop! Don’t walk away. You can help her this time. Grace spun around, grabbed the two-headed girl by the hand and marched her down a different corridor.
“Why did you do that?” Grace scolded.
“For the money,” the girl snapped.
“Money? You’re a
child!”
“So.”
“I’m telling your mother.”
“She don’t care.”

Grace tossed and turned as the illusive scene morphed into a dingy hallway, filled with cooking aromas mingled with sweat and garbage. The two headed girl opened the grey door. Her lovely, dark-skinned mother stood on the other side, wringing her hands.
“Dinners ready,” the mother announced, sweetly.
“Your daughter is being paid to perform sex acts on young boys, did you know that?”
“Wash up now my angel,” said the mother, looking through Grace as if she were a ghost.
“See?” The two-heads sneered succinctly. One head sticking its tongue out at Grace.
“Thank you for bringing my angel home,” said the mother, her eyes distant, vacant pools. “It’s not always safe out there,” she crooned through pouting red lips that shimmered, parting the gates of hell.
Grace bolted for the door, bumping into a dark haired man with cameras dangling from his neck. He held one camera to his eye, clicking incessantly, the flash blinding. >Click<, flash, >click<, flash, >click< flash.
“Stop!” she cried, raising her forearm across her face. “Who are you? What are you doing?”
>Click< flash.
“Enough!” she warned. He continued to stalk. >Click< Flash.
She lunged for his camera, exposing his face.


Grace woke in the middle of a scream, gasping for air. Her heart pounded as though it would burst. Her eyes fought to adjust to the sliver of light creeping beneath swarthy Roman shades.
No cameras. She frantically searched the room, assimilating the black lacquered dressers standing like sentries in the shadows. No crazies.
Crab-crawling to the edge of the bed, she inspected the dark patch stretching across the carpet.
No blood.
She feigned relief, throwing herself back against the pillows. “I am a survivor, not a victim. I am a survivor, not a victim,” she repeated like a mantra. Squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed out loud, “God! I don’t need this shit!”


High pitched whines preceded a pitiful bark. Tan brows danced above concerned brown eyes.
“Sorry, girl…another bad dream.” Running her fingers through the Sheppard’s black silky fur eased Grace’s trembling and helped her back to reality. She scratched the dog’s fluffy ears. “I’ll bet you’re waiting to go out, huh?” Once she untangled herself from the wad of blankets, and crumpled silk sheets, she slid out of bed.

Sneaky padded downstairs. Soon deadbolts and latches were unfastened allowing sunshine to flood the kitchen. The dog darted for the bushes lining the backyard. Birds, enjoying a morning snack, flew in all directions.
Grace stood in the doorway, feeling listless. Her nightmares were becoming more frequent, more unsettling. As a psychotherapist, she knew why she was experiencing them; however “knowing” didn’t make them any less frightening. The nightmare was a symptom–
post traumatic stress syndrome triggered by trauma. Her inability to cope made her feel like the hairdresser with messy hair, the housekeeper with the filthy bathtub, the dentist with crooked teeth. Why can we do for others, but not for ourselves?

Unfolding the morning paper, caused her mood to slump further. Garret was back in the news.
Sacramento Mourns Police Sergeant Garret Weston

Grace pulled a cup of stale coffee from the microwave, grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer, and headed outside, a manila folder tucked under her arm. Perched on the edge of a patio chair, she sipped bitter brew. Her heart ached. She began turning pages until she found the section she was looking for. She clipped the article and opened the folder. Before adding it to the pile, she glared at the photo of Charro Vasquez, the four-foot-seven drug dealer being handcuffed by her handsome, six-foot-one hero. Why did Garret return to duty that day? To her, it hardly seemed fair. She knew underneath his bulletproof vest, a bandage covered the near death experience from the week before. Bullet fragments from Candy’s gun had burned through his vest.
Candy took the easy way out. She couldn’t face her demons– kidnapping– murder charges. Grace’s hand began to shake recalling the pistol striking her temple. The memory escalated to when she found Carlos’s body lying behind the trash can near her back door. Blood pumped from the gash in his throat...Garret weeping over his friend’s body.
If only he had waited one more day… Deep inside she knew, he needed to work…his way of coping with Carlos’s death.
Grace thumbed through the articles, finding one near the bottom of the pile. She took a sip of coffee and nearly gagged. It wasn’t just her coffee that tasted bitter. She couldn’t resist blaming others for all that had happened. Candy’s identity eluded police.
It was me and Garret who put the pieces together, almost too late. Her mind recreated the sequence of events; arriving home, the broken window, the patrolman’s body sprawled on her dining room floor.

Her thoughts went viral. Her mind struggled to make sense of it all. The best advice she could give a client would be to let go of the hatred, in order to heal, but the feeling gnawing at her like a hunger pang waiting to be fed, demanded she read on…

Suspects still at large in Police Sergeant Shooting

Thirty-two year old police Sergeant, Garret Weston, 22
nd Precinct, remains in a coma after being gunned down on 47th Street in Sacramento, one block from where Charro Vasquez and his gang were arrested for drug trafficking. No witnesses have come forth…

* * *

Grace kneaded the tight muscles in her neck, trying to ignore the knot forming in her gut. It wasn’t my fault James broke up with Candy. I gave him my professional opinion. He’s the one who had problems with her stripping. Imprints in time began to roll…

Grace remembered Candy pushing her into the garage at gunpoint. At first she remained calm, counting on the silent alarm Carlos had installed the night Candy slit his throat. She gave up hope when she saw Garret’s still form lying on the garage floor. Grace almost lost her mind then, when Candy kicked him and he didn’t budge...
I couldn’t tell if he was breathing. Grace’s body began to shake. She grabbed her head to make it stop, but the painful memories went on. Candy forced her into the car… the windows were rolled down. It was a beautiful spring day

Grace slumped to her knees, shielding her eyes from the visions tormenting her soul. Garret, appearing at the car’s window, his gun planted at the back of Candy’s head. She pleaded with Candy to put her gun down. “I promise to get you some help,” she heard herself say…but
Candy said it was too late– she’d killed a cop. She laughed, claiming Carlos wasn’t on her agenda, like it was no big deal. That’s when Grace heard the sound of the hammer engage on Garret’s .45. If only Carlos hadn’t recognized Candy from the strip joint where she worked…
“I didn’t know he was a cop!” Candy cried.
“Put your gun down!” Garret demanded.
The scene continued, fresh in her mind… Garret’s jaw set in determination, moving the .45 to Candy’s temple, his finger positioned on the trigger ready to fire.
“Put your gun down, now!” he demanded through clenched teeth.
Grace relived the moment In slow motion… “Fuck you!” Candy cried, turning the gun on herself… >click<.
Grace pounded her fists on her knees. She couldn’t rid herself of the image of Candy’s head bouncing off Garret’s chest as the bullet exploded her skull. A scream froze in Grace’s throat. The last thing she remembered, Garret dripping in gore. From that moment on, her mind was a blank.


Sneaky rested her snout on Grace’s knee and nudged her hand once, waiting patiently until the tears streaming down Grace’s face subsided. Hard as Grace tried, she couldn’t release the haunting memories.
She put her cup down, time to get ready for her appointment with Dr. Meltz.

* * *



She stared in the mirror, hardly recognizing the person staring back. Blond hair, now past her shoulders, looked shaggy. The heavy waves barely fit into a clip. Brown eyes looked tired beneath swollen lids, her long lashes, sparse, from rubbing.
Nice. She stepped away from her reflection and into the shower, feeling older than her thirty-one years.
Hot water beat tense muscles. Minutes evaporated into steaming
plumes. However, scrubbing herself pink couldn’t exfoliate the pain. Tears converged with suds and swirled down the drain.
Brushing straight, white teeth added to the improvement reflected in the mirror, but not much. Still dull. Lifeless.
Perhaps a little make-up? She rummaged through a small drawer aimlessly, but when her fingertips touched the narrow tube of mascara, she lost her incentive. No. Not today. Not yesterday, or the day before. Months had gone by since she concerned herself with make-up. Maybe tomorrow.

The lemon colored tank-top hung loose over Grace’s once full breasts. Faded jeans, fit baggy, on her five-foot-seven frame. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate. Back downstairs to the kitchen for another attempt? The thought of her mother’s unsolicited remarks haunted her.
Try.

She poured herself another cup of stale coffee, opened a box of her favorite doughnuts and placed one on a napkin. After contemplating life’s full circle, she pushed the glazed ring aside. Two more minutes passed staring in the refrigerator--- nothing appealed to her.
Maybe an egg. She pulled out a small frying pan, lit the fire on the stove, added butter, broke the egg and watched it sizzle.
“I can’t do this!” She removed the pan from the flame, threw it in the sink, crumbled to the floor, and sobbed.


* * *



Grace pulled up to the haughty Victorian snuggled between a Mexican restaurant and a comic book store. Last one, she thought, sadly, noting the changes in the last few years. Prestigious households governing the block were torn down for the sake of urban development.
Climbing the stairs, she caught a whiff of wisteria. It smelled sweet, like
childhood.
The door creaked open as she entered the foyer. She walked past two wingback chairs, a marble table stacked with magazines and a settee. “I have a ten o’clock with Dr. Meltz,” she said to the woman behind the desk. The woman checked her watch. Grace cringed, admitting, “I’m late.”
“He’s waiting for you, Miss Simms,” the woman replied in a tardy-bell voice, “go on back.”
Grace followed Persian runners to the end of a narrow hallway. She reached for the crystal knob, and pushed through the grey door marked Dr. Marcus R. Meltz – Psychiatrist. Frosted glass rattled gently in its wooden frame. The scent of lemon oil invaded Grace’s nostrils. Her palms began to sweat.
“Good morning, Dr. Meltz. Sorry, I’m late.”
“With good reason, I’m sure.” Dr. Meltz patted her shoulder, placed the “IN SESSION” sign on the door and plopped into a brown leather recliner.
“So…” He smiled.
She smiled back, trying to recall when his neatly trimmed mustache and full beard turned snow white. When did the slicked hair behind his ears and tethered at the nape of his neck reached the middle of his spine? Had he always dressed like he was on vacation, and smelled like a sunny day in June?
“Damn, I go through more cheap pens…” he said, fiddling with the one he was holding, twisting the barrel and pressing the tip.
“I know what you mean,” Grace replied, easing into the “ice-breaker”.
“Still slumming?” He asked in an amused tone. Grace began smoothing wrinkles from the cut velvet cushion.
“I had intended to go back to work last week. I need more time. I’ve been crying a lot, starving myself, the usual.”
He chuckled. “You’ve been through a lot.” He donned his glasses and stroked his mustache, studying her with warm blue eyes. “Let’s get busy, shall we?” Grace didn’t hesitate.
“I’m still having that awful dream.”
“Let’s start there, then.” He balanced a small tablet and the cheap pen on one knee. “Ready when you are.”
Grace tucked her legs beneath her. Taking a deep breath she began…

“I’m leaving the hospital…” she began. She continued up to the part where she entered the area with cement walls. She took a deep breath.
“I ran! Next thing I know, I’m back in the corridor.”, “But this time, there’s a coffee kiosk on the right. If it was there before, I didn’t notice. So now I’m not only frantic, I feel like I’m lost.”
Dr. Meltz flipped the page and continued to write.
“When I approach the vender to ask directions, the light around me became dismal. Surreal. Then I see a man dressed in dirty, tattered clothes. He has a scraggly beard and greasy hair.” Grace closed her eyes and saw the man’s gnarled fingers pushing a rickety grocery cart. “He walks passed an old woman who’s wearing a limp cotton house dress. The old woman keeps shooing something from her shoulder.” Grace squeezed her lids tight. “Something only she can see.”
“Anyone you know?” Dr. Meltz squinted his eyes. Grace bit her lower lip.
“The old man looks like Daddy.” She swallowed. “The old woman looks like Mom.”
Dr. Meltz scribbled and shook his pen. “Interesting, go on…” Grace closed her eyes.
“Suddenly there’s a commotion… two adolescents come tumbling towards me.” Grace remembered the difficulty she had interpreting the scene. “A young girl with two heads, performing felatio on a screaming boy. He’s begging her to stop, before he ejaculates, but the two headed girl ignores the boy’s pleas. They fall to the ground in front of me, at my feet! Then, the two heads look at me defiantly and laugh while the boy zips his pants.”
Click–flash. Grace opened her eyes.
Dr. Meltz nodded his head. “How did you feel about the situation?”
“In the dream, I was sickened by what I saw……. I lash out at the girl. I yelled, “What are you doing?” She hisses at me, “Shut-up,” she says and I start to walk away in disgust, but then I stop
. I hear myself say, “don’t walk away. You can help her this time.” I turn around, grab her by the hand and the scene changes to a different corridor. I scold her, “Why did you do that!” And she replies, like a smart-ass punk. She gets in my face, tells me she gets paid, as if daring me to pass judgment.”
He chuckled again, “Please. Continue...”
“I know it all sounds preposterous,” she said, nibbling her thumbnail.
“No. Not at all. I apologize for being glib. Tell me, how did you handle the situation?”
“I threatened to tell her mother, she got snippy, she says, “I don’t care.” Grace went on to describe the illusive scene changes, the creepy mother. “I barged my way in... I was not going to be ignored!”
Dr. Meltz raised one eye brow.
Grace’s stomach churned. “Basically, the dreams are the same, except this morning, the ending was different.”
“How so?”
“When I rushed out the door, I bumped into a dark haired man with cameras dangling from his neck. He held one camera to his eye, clicking incessantly. The flash nearly blinded me.” When Grace closed her eyes, she could still see >click<, flash, >click<, flash, >click< flash. I cried, “Stop!” and I raised my forearm across my face. I demanded, “Who are you, what are you doing?” >Click< flash.
Grace quickly blinked away the image.
“Did he stop?” Dr. Meltz’s expression showed concern.
“No! I shouted, “Enough!” but, he didn’t stop!” Grace moved to the edge of her seat, turning pale. “I grabbed his camera. That’s when I saw his face.” Grace looked horrified. Her body trembled. Her eyes opened wide, haunted by the memory.
“Who was it, Gracie?”
“It was Jess!”
They both sat quietly digesting the information before Dr. Meltz broke the silence. “Well, let’s think about where the dream stems from,” he said, “from what you told me about the woman…”
“Candy–”
Candy…” He smiled apologetically. “You told me she had a tragic childhood.” He tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. “You can’t fix everyone Grace.”
“You’re right.” Her eyes focused on her lap. “I felt helpless. I was hoping that she would find reason,” she said, her voice picking up volume. “I had her talking, she was letting it out, she was purging the poison stored in that beautiful head of hers and then >
bam “You’re a psychotherapist Grace, not God.” He paused long enough to let his words resonate. “Why dream of a two headed girl?” He rocked in his chair, the springs sang sweetly.
Grace felt like a student making rounds at the hospital, Dr. Meltz her mentor.
“Candy suffered from depersonalization, her personality split…I’m not sure why, and without analysis…” She sighed. “It could have been because of anything. She talked about being forced into oral sex as a young girl. In my dream, she was the perpetrator, her victim, a young boy, she said she got paid. In my dream, the mother was delusional, detached.”
“Very good, now tell me about the photographer.” Dr. Meltz smoothed the hair on his chin.
“When Candy shot herself, I went into shock. All I remember is waking up in the hospital. Candy had hit me across the face with her gun, I regained consciousness during an x-ray.” Grace pressed a finger to her cheekbone; it was still tender to the touch. “When I was released from the hospital, Jess offered to pick me up. He said he drove past my house and the reporters were like vultures, so I called my neighbor Eli, asked him if I could stay with him until things died down. When we pulled up to Eli’s, this guy jumped out of a van and began snapping my picture, while another man shouted questions at me. It freaked me out.”
“How did they know where you were going to be?”
“Good question, I didn’t think about that.”
“My Lord, Gracie!” He chuckled. “What do you eat before going to bed, Limburger cheese and onions?”
She eyed him with distain. “Blood and cement. There’s a correlation, here. Carlos bled to death on my sidewalk. I vaguely remember the officer that was shot in my dining room, but I remember the blood. When Candy led me into the garage, Garret was lying on the floor…there was blood. Then Candy shot herself. Blood.” She paused, trying to compose herself. “In my dream, there are people everywhere, no one pays any attention to the blood, and no one hears me scream.”

Dr. Meltz’s inflection lacked emotion, but his eyes couldn’t conceal the fury held withheld. “The day Candy shot herself, you were injured. You suffered a concussion. According to the report I read, you were in and out of consciousness when the paramedics arrived. It’s possible you actually did scream, and don’t remember. I’m sure between the swat team, the police and the paramedics your garage was crawling with people. They were probably too busy attending to your needs to deal with the blood.”

Grace broke down in tears.
“Tell me what you’re feeling, Grace.”
“I was so scared. I thought Garret was dead– I saw him lying on the garage floor, in his blood. I was relieved when I saw him come to my rescue. Then, when the bullet passed through Candy’s skull and hit him in the chest, I lost it.”
“You passed out. There’s a difference.”
“I didn’t know he was alive until the next day. Jess was there when I woke up. I saw the two dozen Sweetheart roses in my room I assumed Jess brought them. It was awkward. Jess wasn’t happy when Garret suddenly showed up. I don’t even remember if I said thank you or not. I couldn’t help myself. I had fallen in love.” Her jaw clenched, steadying the words in her mouth. “And now its…its…”
She bunched the fabric in her fists.
“It’s over?”
“Yes.” She released the cut velvet, letting it return to its previous state. “His family, a distant Aunt from Portland, disconnected life support yesterday.”
Dr. Meltz patted her hand.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” he said, tenderly.
“He’s been gone for months now, I was just too stubborn to let go.”
“No one wants to lose someone they love.”
Grace’s eyes swelled. Her tears spilled in a quiet room.

The psychiatrist didn’t budge. His eyes expressed sorrow, yet he said nothing. He knew she would come around when she was ready to speak. And she did.

“The old people in my dream…I recognized them. Grace’s head was beginning to ache. She rubbed her temples as she spoke. “It’s Dad and Mom. Daddy looked like a bum, disheveled, unclean. Mom seems to be out of her mind. I’m not sure what it all means yet.”
“Well, symbolically…”
“I saw their faces, clear as day.”
Dr. Meltz leaned forward, his merriment fading with discernment. “You’ve suffered a loss.”
“I know, but–“
“Give it time, Gracie, things will get better. The nightmares are reenactments of what you have experienced. Have you written them down?”
“No,” she sighed, “I suppose I should. I just wish…” She held her hands over her face. After a few moments, Dr. Meltz gently pulled them away.
“You’re allowed to have feelings, Gracie,” he said softly. “
Talk to me.”
“Have you ever had a moment where you looked into someone’s eyes, and you felt so deeply connected…soul to soul, but because there were no words spoken to the effect, you never knew if that person was feeling the same way?”
“I think I know what you mean. There was a little redhead that rode the same bus in high school as I did. She was on the tennis team…
great legs.” He chuckled. “One day, getting ready to get off the bus, we stood up at the same time and I bumped her shoulder. I thought she would say something derogatory, but she didn’t...she didn’t say anything.” He smiled. “Instead, she gave me a look I’ll never forget.”
Grace’s face warmed. “Exactly.”
“PSTD. Hallucinations, crazy dreams, you know the symptoms,” he said, emphatically. “Let’s work on getting you back on your feet. No need to shrink your head.”
“I suppose you’re right. I did have a great childhood, didn’t I?”
He chuckled and nodded affirming her question. “We’ll talk again next week,” he said, crossing the room.
Lifting the shade made the room brighten instantly. Grace checked the time, their hour wasn’t up.
Grace wondered why the sudden change in demeanor. It wasn’t like him to rush her off. “Something I said?”
Dr. Meltz stood by the doorway, ending the session. “Need to get back to the hospital.” He held up his pager as proof.
Funny, Grace didn’t hear it go off.


* * *