by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 22: Strange Things About

"How was your first day?" my mom asked as I entered the teacher's office. All the other desks were empty as it was already way past the time for the last class.

"Well," I sighed heavily as I dropped my whole body onto a nearby couch. "It started bad, went ok, went to worse, went decent, and then went all the way to hell."

"What?" my mom asked chuckling. "It couldn't have been that bad." I raised an eyebrow at her. "No one called me the whole day about you so that means you have not been suspended or expelled."

"Well, I suppose there's a silver lining in everything," I said dryly.

"Why don't you tell me while we head to have ice cream," she said as she turned off her desk lamp and picked up some folders to bring home.

"I don't eat ice cream, mom."

"Come on, you used to when you were little," she whined.

"Yeah, that was before I found out how fattening those things are."

"Yes," she said as she pinched my sides for non-existent fat. "I can see that you have too much fat in your diet already."

"Mom," I whispered aghast, making sure no one was around to see my mom pinching me.

"Humor me, Derek," she laughed. "Anyway, what happened to you all day?"

By the time we reached the car, I'd managed to tell her most of the things that had happened that day. Of course, I glossed it over just a bit, making things sound not as dire as they actually were. She didn't need to know those particular details anyway.

"And to top it all off," I said as we drove out of the parking lot. "Margaret tried to do so many last minute changes for the dance that I had to call all our suppliers again just to confirm that the original plan was still pushing through. I mean she almost cancelled the band so we could redirect the funds into setting up a skin consultation booth instead. I mean REALLY, what kind of a dance doesn't have a band?"

My mom chuckled. "Margaret…" she said as though trying to remember. "Long hair, brunette, very light complexion hidden beneath makeup, and always introduces herself as…"

"Margaret Elizabeth C. O'Connor," we both said at the same time. We laughed together at that.

"Oh yes, I know her parents," my mom said. "He father works for L'Oreal as a hair and make-up consultant. And her mother owns a chain of beauty salons in the west coast. I've always wondered why they live here when their business is so far away but I guess it's because of her father."

"Yeah, well if they're anything like her, it must be a pain working with them."

"Not sure," my mom laughed. "She's a splitting image of her mother though. I actually managed to convince her to send her daughter here instead of Westfield. Money wasn't a concern for them so I just had to convince them that Southmore was a superior school."

"Ooh, mom," I pretended to whine. "Now I know it's your fault we have to deal with her."

My mom chuckled again. "She can't be that bad."

"No, except that half the time she's looking at herself in the mirror. And the other half, she's looking at herself some more in the mirror."

"Okay, okay, I get it," my mom laughed. "You don't like her very much."

"It's not that I don't like her. She just needs to get her priorities straight."

My mom looked away from the road for a moment to look at me but didn't say anything. We were suddenly both quiet, unable to add anything more to that particular train of thought. I found myself drifting back to the meeting I just had with the committee heads for the dance, the way they interacted with me, the way they looked at me.

"Mom," I said after a few minutes of silence passed by. "Do you think I'm difficult to work with?"

"What do you mean, dear?" she asked kindly.

"Well… when I met with the other committee heads earlier today, they all seemed, I dunno, subdued I guess. It was like they were just doing whatever I asked them to without even questioning me."

"You are the head of the dance committee," she pointed out. "And some of those heads are from lower year levels."

"Yeah, but don't they have any ideas of their own?"

"Of course they do, Derek. But maybe they already like your ideas. Didn't you just say Margaret had other ideas of her own?" she smirked.

I rolled my eyes. "Well, she has ideas. And speaking of that, think about it. Not once did she mention about wanting all those beauty things for the dance. Then the moment I disappear for two weeks, she suddenly tries to implement all these ideas she wants as if she's been itching to do it all this time."

My mom remained silent so I knew she was in deep thought. "Honey," she began in what she probably hoped was a mollifying voice. "Can I be frank with you?"

I looked at her in surprise. "Mom, of course you can. Why do you even need to ask?"

"I have to ask," she said carefully, "because I'm not sure you'll like what I have to say."

I stared at her. She was glancing at me every now and then, and I wondered how bad it could be when my own mother was afraid to criticize me. "It's okay, mom. You can tell me whatever you want to say."

She sighed as though gathering her thoughts. I let carry on with it and after a few minutes, she spoke. "Well, honey, I think… I think you tend to have a very strong, very intimidating personality."

"Intimidating?" I asked.

"Honey, maybe it's best if you let me finish first," she smiled.

"Okay," I said shrugging.

"As I was saying, you have a strong personality. You tend to know what you want and expect to get it when you want it. That's an admirable quality in some ways because it will be useful if you ever decide to go into business. You have a way about you that tends to convince others to follow what you want, almost without effort. You're a lot like your father in that way." She looked sideways at me as though expecting me to interrupt but I didn't so she continued. "The thing is, sometimes when things don't go your way, you tend to become quickly annoyed, angry even. You can be grossly efficient but badly short tempered. I think…" she hesitated, "I think sometimes you just don't notice. And that's why some people tend to tread carefully around you, do you know what I mean?"

I thought about it while I watched the scenery pass outside. "You mean," I swallowed heavily, "I'm like dad?"

"No," she said quickly, "well, yes in that way but in everything else, you're a lot different than your father. You are your own person."

We were silent for a while as I tried to digest what she said or at least was trying to tell me. It wasn't like my dad was a bad guy or anything. It was just that he was always busy. Far too busy that sometimes I wondered if he even thinks about us when he's away. To be honest, that was odd because I once had fond memories of my dad. He was always the busy type but he also found ways to show us that he cared, that he was there in a special way even if physically he could be somewhere else.

And then, something just happened. Well, at least that's how I think of it anyway. Because one day, he was just gone, separate, almost indifferent.

My mom chuckled and that caused me to divert my thoughts away from depressing ideas.

"What?" I asked, smiling at the bemused look on her face. She seemed to be recalling a particularly pleasant memory.

"Do you remember that Chicago Bulls jacket you had me buy when you were little?"

I smiled fondly, remembering the exact jacket she was talking about. "You mean the one I wore everywhere?"

My mom laughed. "Oh, yes, that one. I remember you begging me nonstop to buy you that jacket. You even got Charlie to beg with you. I just knew you were going to throw a tantrum if you didn't get that jacket."

"Well, you had to admit," I said laughing with her. "It was a pretty cool jacket."

"Yes, sweetie," she laughed, "but really, no one in their right mind wore a jacket in the blazing summer heat."

"Yeah," I chuckled at the number of times I sweated under that jacket and still kept it on because it looked so cool on me. "Just be glad I outgrew that habit then, or else the house might smell like a gym locker."

"As if it doesn't already every time you come home from basketball practice!"

"Hey! I don't smell that bad. I happen to smell pretty good," I half-joked.

My mom shook her head bemusedly. "What ever happened to that jacket? I haven't seen it in years."

"It's…" I began but had to pause. What did happen to that jacket? I loved that jacket. As in absolutely LOVED it when I was little. It was odd that I couldn't remember what happened to it. Something was itching at the back of my head as though the memory was there just slightly out of my reach.

"Derek?" my mom asked, sounding slightly concerned.

"It's…" I repeated as I tried to remember what happened but couldn't. I'd always had a perfect memory to go along with everything else that was perfect about me. It was disconcerting to realize that there was something about my past that I couldn't remember, as if there was a blank spot there.

"Honey, are you okay?" my mom asked sounding a lot more worried then.

"Yeah," I frowned. "I… I don't remember. I don't remember what happened to the jacket."

My mom was glancing at me from the corner of her eyes. "Well, if you haven't disposed of it, then it's probably still somewhere in the house among your old clothes."

"Yeah," I whispered. "Maybe."

"Tell you what?" she said smiling. "Why don't I go looking for it when I have free time? Maybe I can find other embarrassing mementos of your past." She laughed at my very audible groan. "Come on, it might be fun reliving some of your memories."

"Mom," I said with fake disgust, "I'm not so old that I need to start reminiscing on the good ole days. Besides, why don't you go looking for old embarrassing mementoes about you instead?"

"Well, you're welcome to look through my old stuff," she smiled.

I shook my head. "It's not like I'd know if there was anything embarrassing related to those items. Unless perhaps they were old records of what you people used to call music."

"Hey! I am NOT that old," she laughed.

"Yeah, yeah, say whatever you want grandma."

She chuckled as she shifted the gear to slow the car down. We were approaching the Mile Five Intersection and the light had just turned red. She frowned as she stared up at the stoplight which had turned green again mere moments after it had turned red. "I swear that stoplight is broken. No way should it have changed colors that fast. That thing's going to get someone into an accident some day. And no, Derek," she turned to me with cackling eyes, "it didn't turn green because you are in the car."

"Just drive, woman," I scolded merrily.

"I still don't understand why I have to be here," I said as I stared up at the glass-paneled multi-level building that reflected the sun mercilessly unto the street. The shine of the building gave it the impression that it was a temple dedicated to a sun god. People around us were hurrying about trying to take cover from the reflected rays.

"Honey," my mom sighed, sounding quite exhausted, "you promised you'd give this a shot and actually try to get some help."

"But mom, I'm not crazy," I whispered as we joined the busy group of people milling about the lobby of the building. We had driven a considerable distance into the denser urban sections of the city. The congestion in the roads among people and cars wouldn't make anyone think that our neighborhood actually belonged to the same city. It almost looked like the two belonged to completely different worlds.

"I know you're not, Derek. It's not about being crazy or not. It's about asking for help and talking to someone about the things bothering you."

"But nothing's bothering me," I said in a voice that clearly betrayed what I was trying to say. I had just come from a particularly disappointing Saturday basketball practice. I could feel coach's frowning eyes follow me across the court as I made mistake after mistake with my moves. It wasn't my fault really! I had a lot on my mind. And the shocked and pitying looks of my teammates weren't helping. The mere memory of the afternoon made me scowl.

"Then you can talk about anything," my mom said as we tried to squeeze into the elevator. She pressed six on the elevator board and turned back to me. "What's important is that you talk to her. She's a very good psychologist from what I've been told."

"Mom!" I whispered angrily as I looked around at the other people in the elevator. People finding out that I was seeing a shrink was a scandal I did not want to go out into public.

"Okay, okay," she conceded tiredly. I felt slightly guilty that she seemed almost as drained from everything that's been happening as I did. But then I kept remembering that it was her fault we were there in the first place. I mean, I didn't want to go at all. The fact that Mrs. C was the one who recommended this shrink wasn't improving my mood any better either.

I took a deep, well-appreciated breath as we exited the crowded elevator. We were the only ones to get off at that floor and I wondered idly if this was a floor reserved for crazy people.

"I think it's this way," my mom said as she turned her eyes from the floor directory against the wall down unto a narrow brightly lit corridor.

"Who is this shrink anyway?" I asked as we walked down the deserted path.

"She's very known in her field," she said. "At least that's what I've been told. She specializes in troubled teens. Not that you're troubled," she added hastily as I gave her a certain look. "I just mean she's used to dealing with younger people."

"So I only have to be here for three sessions, right?" I asked as I looked at door after door of doctor's names. I was right. This WAS the floor for crazy people.

"Only if you feel it's not helping and if you've really given it a try," she said in a voice that had a little more determination to it.

"Okay," I said, letting the matter drop. I figured that I'd just do her three sessions and get the thing over with. I didn't really know if my mom would make a big issue over it after everything was over but I was hoping not.

"This is it," my mom said as we reached the first glass door I'd seen on the floor. A large inscribed sign on it pronounced it as the office of Dr. Angelina D. Baker, PhD. The room on the other side was brightly lit from the glass on the side of the building. A whole side was just pure glass which gave an excellent view of the city outside (well, the buildings outside anyway as we weren't really that high up). There were many plants and couches spread around inside that gave a welcoming atmosphere. It almost made me think of an oasis in a warm, dry desert. It made me want to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun.

"Hello. How may I help you?" a middle-aged woman behind a wide arced desk made of polished mahogany wood said cheerfully. My eyes lingered on the desk for a moment where rearing camels were carved into the design. I also noticed that there were at least three camel figurines placed on the surface of the desk. I then turned my eyes towards the woman sitting behind the desk. She had a dark green blouse underneath a loose fitting brown blazer that blended horribly with the natural surroundings of the room. I wondered if she picked out the attire to match her surroundings, like a chameleon blending into the background just before it extended its tongue towards a large juicy insect.

For an unbidden moment, the image of a large juicy fly with my face on it crossed my mind.

"Hi, we're here to see Dr. Baker. We have a four o'clock appointment."

"Ah, of course. You must be Mrs. Hampton," she said extended her hand to shake my mom's hand. "And you must be her charming, young son, Derek."

I almost puked into my mouth. "Yes, ma'am."

"If you just give me a moment," she said as she pressed a button on the speakerphone on her desk. "Excuse me Dr. Baker."

"Yes, Karen?" came a bright, confident voice from the other side.

"Pardon me, Dr. Baker, but your four o'clock is here."

"Send them right in," the voice on the other line said before the connection was cut off.

"Well," she turned quickly again to my mom. "It seems Dr. Baker is ready. If you will just wait over there Mrs. Hampton, we'll get started immediately on young Derek."

My mom and I turned to look towards a corner where several couches were arranged artistically around a large flat screen TV, which was set to a low volume.

"Over… wait," my mom said. "Shouldn't I go talk to Dr. Baker first?"

"Oh no, no, no, no," Karen said as though my mom had said something absurd. "We are very strict in not allowing parents to join their child while he or she talks to Dr. Baker."

"Child?" I asked aghast. "Excuse me, but I am legally an adult."

"Of course, you are," she said kindly. "All the more reason that you won't need your mother there, agree?"

"But," my mom said sounding quite nettled, "wouldn't it be proper for me to at least meet the doctor first? I mean I've never met her before."

"And yet you're here," Karen said. "Dr. Baker doesn't take just any clients. You've come highly recommended which is why we've managed to squeeze you into our very busy schedule."

I looked around at the elegantly but nonetheless quite empty waiting room. My mom did the same thing and I was sure similar thoughts were going through her mind.

"Karen," my mom said kindly, though I could tell even her controlled voice was being strained. "I just want to meet Dr. Baker. That is all. I will not sit through the session. I simply want to know the person my son is talking to."

"I'll make sure to let her know that," Karen said as she stood by the door that presumably led to Dr. Baker's office. "Now if you please, take a seat."

My mom looked warily at the couched area as though something indecent was waiting for her there. I knew she wanted to give the secretary a piece of her mind. I wondered bemusedly at that moment if I didn't perhaps inherit the short temper from her after all.

"Mom," I told her. "It's okay. I'll be fine." I tried to give her as comforting a smile as I could. I think I managed it successfully because she visibly relaxed.

"Are you sure you're going to be alright?" she asked with a concerned voice.

"He will be fine, Mrs. Hampton," Karen said cheerfully.

"If you don't mind," my mom said with a knife in her voice, "I'm talking to my son."

"Of course, Mrs. Hampton," Karen nodded politely and seemed to melt into the surroundings. With her dress, it wasn't particularly difficult.

"I'll be fine mom," I said and suddenly I felt like I really meant it. Somehow the fierceness of her voice against Karen was heartening. "I'm going to give this a try for you."

My mom smiled and nodded. She placed her open palm against my cheek in a comforting gesture before finally succumbing to the demands of Karen and made her way to the couched area.

"Right this way," Karen said as she opened the door to a room that didn't look remotely like an office. It appeared to have been a room that was converted into a hallway. One side was again glass that showed the outside while the other had mirrors so it made the place look abnormally large. There were several fountains spewing water, trickling them gently around potted plants that covered nearly every inch of the floor. Miniature statues of various smiling people broke through the greenery every few steps. It felt like I'd somehow walked into the jungle in someone's backyard. I wondered how in the world this place existed inside a commercial building on the sixth floor.

Karen closed the door behind us with a muffled thud which made the sound of water magnified as we walked across the stretch of the hallway. I began to have apprehensions regarding the whole thing again. I mean, what kind of doctor would have all these elaborate decorations in her office. Maybe she was the one in need of psychiatric help.

When we finally reached the door at the other end of the hallway, Karen turned to me. "Are you ready?"

"I guess," I said with a shrug more curious about how the office itself would look more than anything the shrink had to say.

Karen nodded and opened the door. I prepared my eyes to look around Dr. Baker's office but they were unfortunately drawn immediately to a more pressing, quite possibly alarming sight in the very middle of the room. There was a full body desk in the middle similar to what you'd expect from kitchen countertops. That wasn't the disturbing part though.

Rather, it was the woman standing behind it, holding a large carving knife.

"I've been waiting for you," she smiled maniacally as she raised the knife in her hand.

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