She comes in, and he watches her. She is like her son, holding her arms around herself as she takes in the measure of the room. There is that awkward stiffness, the hawkish eyes--- but the shine on hers is much sadder, and a little weary. She notes the exits too, but a little less obviously. Better trained, maybe. Or more experienced. She sits, hugs her jacket close to her, looks at him.
"Are you cold?" he asks her.
She's shivering. Just a little, but enough that he notices. It isn't cold.
"I'm fine," she says.
"I have to admit, I was surprised to hear from you."
That stare again. No doubt at all those children are hers. No doubt at all where they get it from. Whether it is shared genes that shape them, or shared trauma, he hasn't yet decided. But something is up, and he is convinced that she is the key to it.
"I usually start by asking someone what it is that's brought them here today," he says.
"I don't know," she answers.
"That's funny. Your daughter said that too."
At the mention of her daughter, she flinches, but covers with a smooth "Did she?"
"And I told her, as I told your son, that this is a safe place. It's a safe place, Sarah. You can tell me whatever you need to tell me."
"Yeah. I've heard that one before."
Well, that catches his attention. He was right in his earlier guess that she was the one in this family who has dealt with his type in the past. She's a little too skittish for it to be only the prospect of therapy that has her spooked, but he reigns in his curiosity and keeps his face neutral. "And?"
"And if you're lying, I won't know until it's too late."
And there is that paranoia again. All of them had it except perhaps the girl, but of course one must connect with people in order to understand or fear them, and of the lot of them, she was the one who was most deficient in that area...
"But you came, didn't you?"
She breathes out slowly. "Yeah. I came."
He notices her gaze wandering, and he sees she is eying the cardboard box on his table. It's the one with the dolls and the colouring books and the toys he has for children; he forgot to put it away after his appointment with Savannah Weaver.
When she does not start talking again, he lets his own eye wander there too.
"Go ahead and have a look if you want to," he says, nodding toward the box. He senses a more delicate approach just might go over with her, and her hands, half-fisted, half-reaching, twitch visibly as she wavers between curiosity and what's clearly a mounting panic. Cold feet, he sees it all the time. But this is more than most, and it's conforming his suspicion that any prior experience she's had with this sort of thing wasn't good for her.
"Go on," he encourages. Then he reaches into his pocket, taps a button on his pager and sets it ringing. She looks up at the noise, and he mutters an 'excuse me,' nudging the box toward her as he steps away. They need space sometimes. He has set up the panic button for situations just like this one, and he makes himself look busy with the phone for a moment, keeping half an eye on her, waiting until the illusion of distance takes hold and she drops her guard a little. When he comes back to her, he finds that she's picked up a sketch pad and is slowly drawing. Her body is finally relaxing, her shoulders unclenching, her face both soft yet oddly intense as she moves the pencil over the smooth, white sheet. When he attempts to peek over at her work, she doesn't stop him.
It takes his breath away.
"What is it?" he asks her.
The drawing is rough, but horrifying. A school yard. The silhouette of a boy, crouching, arms raised to shield himself from falling debris. The silhouette of a woman, crouched on top of him, hugging him close. Protecting him. The sky lit up with fire, the heavens opened up to a rain of hail and shrapnel and blood. And hovering all around the edges of the grisly tableau, inhuman skeletons, towering, metallic.
She doesn't answer for a second. And when she does, her voice is tight, but oddly calm.
"That's Judgment Day," she says.
"Is that something you think about a lot?"
She fidgets, looks away. Then, seems to strengthen inside and meet his gaze.
"I dream about it," she says.
"Sometimes, he's older, when it happens. Sometimes he's not. There is fire, though. Always fire."
"And always you? Protecting him?"
"Yes. Always me."
"That's a lot of pressure on you."
"More on him."
"But he has you to lean on. And you have..."
"I don't have anybody."
"As I was saying. That's a lot of pressure on you."
And that, right there, is the crux of her problem, he supposes. Whatever has happened to make it this way---her and him, alone, against the world---it's haunting her. More so because it seems like none of them will talk about this. About him, the elephant on the room, John's father. He's spent the weeks watching them all dodge it like skilled double agents during military questioning, offering him alternative secrets whenever he gets too close to asking about this one...
"It's okay to talk about him," he says. This is the defining moment for this family he is sure of it, and if he can get her to open up to him about this, there is hope yet of saving them. "Sarah, look at me. It's okay, you understand? It's okay. Now, talk to me. Talk to me about John's father."
And like that, her guard is up again. "Why? Who told you to ask me about that?"
He is taken aback by what he hears in her tone, but he holds his ground. This is her trauma, he is sure of it, and nothing can happen here unless she opens up.
"Nobody told me. Sarah, it's...it's not your fault, you know that, right? Whatever happened..."
"You have no idea what's happened."
"So explain it to me."
"No. I'm too smart for that."
"Too smart for what, Sarah?"
"I'm not going there with you. Not today, anyway. Not until I'm sure."
"Sure about what?"
She smiles. "You ask that a lot."
"Funny, Your daughter said the same thing."
And like that, the lightness leaves her eyes. He isn't sure which button is the more important one to push right now. He lets the silence hang for a second, then decides.
"How did you meet him?"
"We are not talking about that."
"I don't like to say stuff about him. It's safer that way."
"Safer because you can avoid having to deal with your feelings about his death?"
"Safety is not about feelings."
"No. Can we talk about something else, please?"
"All right. Let's talk about that." He points again to the picture. "Does he have anything to do with it?"
He knows she won't answer. But he's watching her eyes, and she says it there. He isn't sure if what she's feeling is coming from the picture itself, or from his questions. But whatever this 'Judgment Day' scenario is representing, it started with John's father and how he died. Was there fire? Were there machines? It was a battle, obviously. That fits with what he's heard from John, from the soldier uncle, from the little he's gotten off of her. He gets that there was some sort of battle. But was she there? Did she see it, somehow? Was it less of an actual army incident and more like an everyday sort of shoot-out, a mugging, a car-jacking, something like that? Did it hurt her too?
"Hey." He tries to catch her eye again, but she won't look at him. She's biting her lip, hands twitching, eyes welling up, commanding herself to keep it together. "We can deal with this," he tells her. "If you tell me what it is, we can work it through. I can help you."
"That's easy to say."
"I know it is. And I'll be frank with you, there's a lot going on here that's beyond even me to put my finger on. But losing him...however it happened...I can help you. On that one thing, I can help."
She's quiet for a second. Then she finds that spark again and moves, grabbing the paper from his hand in one fast, angry burst, and balling it into the garbage can.
He waits, letting the silence press down on her. She fidgets, looks away from him, then tries to sit back again.
"Damn it. I'm not letting you get me like this."
Like her brother-in-law, the one who was a soldier too. Assuming this is a contest. Well, fine. He'll play along with that.
"So, people have gotten to you before? Like this?"
"I don't want to talk about that."
There is not a denial in that. This interests him.
"There's a lot you people don't want to talk about."
"Yeah, well, life sucks sometimes, and not everyone wants to live in the past."
"I don't think that's your problem."
He picks her picture out of the garbage can, smoothes out the ball of twisted paper, sets it down in such a way that she can't look away from it.
"If this is what you think you have in your future? Sounds like that would be the scarier place to be."
She swallows, blinks quickly, trying to hold herself together. But he's hit it, at last: she can't live with her past, but she's terrified of her future. So where, exactly, does that leave her to live?
"You have John," he says.
She nods, resolutely ignoring the tears seeping out of her eyes, unbidden.
"You have Cameron. You have Derek."
She hesitates, then slowly nods again.
"And you had him, whoever he was."
She chokes back a sob, then nods again.
"So let's start with that," he says.
She closes her eyes letting the last of the tears leak out while she manages a shuddering breath.
"I'm tired," she says after a moment.
"And I'm not really sure I feel like talking."
But that's feeling, at least. He'll start with that.