After returning from his trip around the globe with the business tycoon, Luke couldn’t shake off the feeling that something important had happened back there in the desert. That impression only intensified after he retold his impressions to El. The Maya god — it was still so odd to think of him that way — had appeared genuinely preoccupied by his tale, which only further convinced Luke of the desert episode’s significance.
Something monumental had happened there, but he had no idea what that could have been.
Luke tried not to be curious, and over the following days he managed to mostly bury that lingering interest in other people’s private matters that he had happened to witness. If Hector Viteri’s significant other, who happened to be a man, fled to the other side of the globe, and then the businessman followed him just to have a heated argument between the dunes and return — none of that was Luke’s business. It would be rude and inappropriate to even dwell on it too much.
That matter settled in his mind, Luke limited himself to feeling good about the fact that nobody got seriously hurt. Except the jet pilot, for whom Luke prayed every evening since. He hoped the poor man was well.
Everyday life in the tenement was wonderful to return to. Safe and in a way mundane. He cooked, cleaned, shared meals with the tenants and made an occasional delivery for El, mostly passing things to Yen or receiving them when the biker came to them.
Luke felt at peace and even happy. But he couldn’t feel happy for long. Because whenever he did, his mind went to the Mances and how his happiness and his very existence came at the price of their misery. It wasn’t fair. He had to figure something out.
The New Year and the few days after it had been the hardest to wade through. Wyatt knew already that he both needed and wanted to be with Hector. The guardian part of him screamed that he had to fulfill his duty by being as close to the beast as he could and keeping it under 24/7 surveillance, and the I-accidentally-fell-for-a-crime-boss part echoed that sentiment, but luckily there was still the rational part of him in there somewhere. That one reigned him in and said that he could not camp out on Hector’s rooftop in winter, or any other time of the year for that matter, or follow the Man around with a spyglass. Contrary to the guardian logic, it just didn’t make sense and didn’t actually contribute to anything. If he wanted to be with Hector, he had to get back with him on human terms, without giving in to the tempation of these crazy ideas. And if he actually wanted to keep an eye on the beast, then well, technically it was all around him, and he was constantly doing that. He didn’t perceive the beast as clearly as he had during their recent confrontation, but when he focused really hard, he could still see wisps of it here and there, entangling New Coalport. From what he gathered, it appeared to be at rest, sound asleep again. That at least meant he didn’t fuck up on the intergalactic scale. Just on a human one. The realization was supposed to make him feel better, but it didn’t really, because right now this mortal scale failure seemed just as impossible to address.
Luckily, the university started again and that was helping with grounding him. He had lectures to show up for, and even though it was hard to stay focused when his thoughts kept darting to the living, breathing cosmic horror present all around, and to the current whereabouts of its earthly form, it helped. Still, he felt he needed another distraction. When the shrink contacted him two days later, Ocher was almost relieved.
* * *
The psychiatrist’s office was as cosy as a doctor’s office could be. Large potted plants, thick curtains, a few bookcases of cherry wood and a perfectly ordinary set of a comfy couch and armchairs. It looked more like a home office mixed with a living room. Even the certificates and degrees that decorated the walls did not diminish that impression.
Doctor Samantha Ely, a blond woman in her fifties, welcomed him with the standard handshake and introduction, offered him coffee or tea, then invited him to sit on the couch.
Wyatt felt like he was in a movie. This wasn’t his kind of place, he wasn’t mentally ill, and he didn’t really want to be here, but he knew there was no way around this. He had screwed up and given Hector many reasons to believe he was crazy. Filtering the events through the lense of his acquired humanity, the beast proved seemingly unable to see him for what he was. He had tried to convince it nonetheless, but after that heavy coaching session with Hamsi, he had given up on the idea. Reminding the beast of its true nature was not the way to go. If he wanted to be by Hector’s side, he guessed he had to prove to him that he was a regular, mentally stable human being. It meant lying but hey, that was familiar ground, something he was good at. He shook the shrink’s hand and agreed to tea. He tried to be optimistic about it. Maybe this whole therapy session wasn’t going to be so bad after all. He needed some help getting back on track with Hector, maybe this could provide him with some directions.
Ocher took his place, and when the tea was made and served, the shrink sat down in an armchair opposite to him.
“Before we begin, you should know there is nothing you need to withhold from me. I’ve worked with Mr. Viteri in a different role for over a decade before moving into the field of psychology. Anything you say will stay between you and me. And potentially Mr. Viteri, if you allow it. He would like to hear my opinion on your overall progress as we work through what happened between the two of you. I wouldn’t pass any details, of course.”
“I’d honestly prefer if you consulted me before passing anything to Mr. Viteri. And um, what kind of role was that, if you don’t mind me asking?” Wyatt pried, carefully. “I mean, regarding the not withholding anything part…”
“I was an enforcer, working directly under him,” she said frankly. “I know as much as you do about the higher echelons of the Citizens. Possibly more.”
“Oh god,” Wyatt said with a sigh. This was going to be a long hour. Therapy with an ex-Citizen. With a retired murderer basically. How delightful. But he guessed it made sense. At least neither he nor Hector would need to worry about something inconveniently illegal coming up. “Well alright, it’s good to know. So, how do we start?”
“Well, that depends on how you feel, Mr. Brooks. From what Mr. Viteri told me, recent events could be a very painful matter, so if you would like to first tell me about yourself and your life, it would be a good place to start.” Dr Ely picked up a writing pad and pen. “Please, lie down, get comfortable, and we can begin.”
Wyatt was about to protest. How about he just remained sitting? How about he talked to her and not to the ceiling? But on second thought, he complied. It was somewhat easier to bullshit someone when not looking them in the eyes, even if personal experience had taught him to do that in any position. Still, he complied and rested on the couch, hoping he could get this over with as soon as possible. “The recent events were mostly painful to other people. They were purely stress related. I can tell you exactly how everything happened.”
And so he did. Starting from a brief summary of his dropping out of his geology studies, and picking up thieving, which consequently led to the isolated case of sleepwalking that brought him into Hector’s home. He really wished he could tell the shrink that he broke into Hector Viteri’s mansion simply to burgle it. That would have made so much more sense to everyone than what had actually happened. But no, he couldn’t lie about this one, because he’d already blabbered the truth out to Hector. That’s what being chased down by a mafioso in a helicopter while you were having an identity crisis in the desert did to people. They screamed the truth at the top of their lungs and said things they would later regret and that would be incredibly hard to take back.
Due to that he was starting from a lost position, and admitting there was sleepwalking involved in all that, only made it worse. He could bet this lady was already thinking that someone able to scale a wall of a house while asleep had to be mentally unstable in some other way. She did not make any comments on it, though. For now she just listened and wrote something down from time to time. He didn’t know which was worse. As much as he loved the sound of pen on paper when he was the one jotting down observations in his journal, he quickly learned that he hated it when it came to someone else taking notes on him. He found himself talking simply to drown out that sound, even though it was clearly a vicious circle.
He was almost glad when Dr. Ely interrupted him.
“It has been brought to my attention that on the night of the sleepwalking episode you were caught with the key to Mr. Viteri’s bedside table. Can you tell me why you took it?”
Right. Except for sleepwalking there was also the kleptomania of course. How could he ever forget. “No, not really.”
“Do you collect keys, Mr. Brooks?”
“No, I don’t collect them,” he said, and twisted on the couch to make eye contact with her and clarify some aspects of this situation once and for all. “Let’s not beat around the bush here. I know I’m a bit kleptomaniac with a strong preference for keys, but I’ve been like that since forever. And just for the record, I have also sleepwalked a whole lot ever since I was a kid. I have my problems yes, but I am and have always been a normally functioning person, and all these minor issues escalated only because I was scared for my life. And just for the record, I didn’t run away because I was afraid of Mr. Viteri, but because I’ve grown so entirely relaxed in his company that I needed to get away from him to clear my head. When I was deciding to go on my getaway holiday I was experiencing the very opposite of fear. The moment I became scared for my life again was when Mr. Viteri pinpointed my precise location in a matter of days and decided to follow me all the way across the ocean, even though I had thought at the time that I had explicitly asked him not to do that…”
As he ran out of breath, the therapist politely told him that there was no need to make such protective statements at this point in time. She asked him not to jump to conclusions and instead to continue his relation in the chronological order the way he began. Then she made yet another note that she was going to inevitably use against him at some later time.
Wyatt agreed that it was probably a good idea, and so he went on retelling the story of his relationship with Hector from his perspective making sure to present both the good and the bad parts of dating a crime lord, with the prevalence of the good ones. He wanted to present the whole misunderstanding and the reason he had to lie so much all the way through it, but also highlight the nice moments which made him grow to enjoy it in the end.
It was only twenty minutes later, when he was getting to Hector’s birthday party that she suddenly asked.
“Did your parents know?”
“Sorry, what?” he asked, absolutely put off his stroke.
“At that moment in time, did your parents know about your problems, Mr. Brooks? About the troubles with finishing the university, the financial difficulties and the fact that those made you turn to a criminal lifestyle?”
What did that have to do with anything? “No, at that moment in time, they didn’t.”
“Do they know any of these things now?”
He turned his head to her again. He wanted to answer ‘yes’ to that, but that would mean he would have to quickly tell them everything before anyone interested in the matter could verify that they in fact knew nothing. The problem was, he wasn’t sure if Hector didn’t know that already. He sighed and resigned himself to telling the truth.
“No, they still don’t.”
She noted something in his file again. Wyatt wanted to scream.
“So we could say that lying was, and still is a problem,” she said.
He didn’t know if that was supposed to be a statement or an inquiry, but he did not intend to just let her make those kinds of assumptions. “No, lying is not a problem. It’s the problems that are the problem. Lying is just a means to spare my old parents from heart attacks caused by finding out that their son wasted their money and his potential.”
“Do they know about your relationship with Mr. Viteri then?”
“No, they don’t, because they are not gay friendly, and it’s none of their business.” He honestly had no idea. Chances were, his parents would love Hector more than they loved him, but this here lady didn’t have to know this.
“I see. Well, that gives me some valuable perspective. Now, let us talk about how the lies affected the mentioned relationship.”
Ocher quickly lost all hope that this session would contribute to anything good whatsoever. The woman was like a goddamn tiger. She would lay in wait for ten minutes and then pounce on him when he would least expect it. He tried to watch himself more closely, but she would still get him on something in the end.
“So, going back to the island episode again…”
No, how about not going back to the island episode. How about going back to the basement episode or the ship episode instead and bloody staying there. How about discussing that first date with a body bag that was actually psychologically significant, unlike most other things. How about talking about Wilma and Betty killing Craig? Why were Hector and this prying woman so set on making him into a rape victim? Jesus, he’d said just one thing to indicate it, just one thing.
“Yes, what about it…? I already said it did not affect me in any major way. If anything, it was more about me being scared for my life if something didn’t work out.”
“That is… not what I meant. After what Mr. Viteri did to you there, you — from what I’ve been told — turned to alcohol for comfort. First on the island, then after you returned home. You were also drinking very actively at the Halloween party. It is perfectly understandable, in your situation. But tell me, did you have any problems with alcohol before that? Any bouts of excessive consumption?”
Wyatt couldn’t just lie looking at the ceiling any longer. Not when she was pulling things out of her ass like this. He sat down on the couch and just turned to her. “No, no bouts before or after. It was purely related to the island thing, and I had maybe two drinks at that Halloween party. Where are you even going with all that? What does this have to do with anything?”
“Alcohol can be the cause of certain conditions, including… well, delusions,” the shrink said with something like sympathy.
Wyatt felt his blood begin to boil. He knew he was supposed to resist this urge, but he just couldn’t do it with her getting under his skin that way. “Fine, let’s go that way then. Did you have a lot to drink today?”
Dr. Ely gaped at him. “What? Why-”
“No, please, answer. It’s extremely relevant.”
“I didn’t drink at all today.”
“Perfect. Then look closely. Let’s see if excessive sobriety can also be the cause of delusions.” He took the pillow from the couch. He made sure she was looking. Then he turned it into sand, which rose into the air and formed an orb woven of swirling overlapping circles of sand grains. He held it out to her, constantly shifting above his palm. “So are we both crazy or what?” Wyatt asked. There was a golden shimmer to his skin, that he was hoping she also wouldn’t fail to notice.
The shrink stared at him and the sand in turns. She stood up and put her notes and pen down. “I… have to make a phone call.”
She stepped over to her desk and sat down. She picked up the receiver and dialed a number.
“Hello. I’d like to speak to Mr. Viteri, please. It’s fairly urgent. Thank you…”
A moment passed in silence. Dr. Ely’s eyes were still glued to Wyatt and the sand sphere he held. Wyatt looked at her, fed up. There went him not giving her the permission to pass details to Hector.
“Mr. Viteri, Mr. Brooks is here. He just turned my pillow into…” The wide-eyed expression on the shrink’s face slowly began to fade, turning into a sort of sceptical understanding. “A-ha… Of course, it is a trick. I see. Thank you. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Have a nice day.”
Wyatt heard a deep rumble of Hector’s own goodbyes before the shrink hung up. Just that was enough to cause a sense of profound longing for the Man. But that feeling was short-lived, because in a moment Dr. Ely was back, sitting opposite to him with the same professional dispassionate expression she wore before. The animated sphere of sand apparently was now the most mundane thing she had ever seen.
Nothing helped. The next few objects he turned into sand in front of her eyes didn’t even cause as much as a blink. She looked at him with a world-weary expression.
“Are you done throwing sand around my office, Mr Brooks?”
He looked at her with a similar one “Yes. Yes, I guess I am.”
He’d already known that Hector could influence people and what they believed. But even over the phone? Really? Of course he would. The beast was all around them. It might have not been looking before, but now the matter was brought directly to its attention. This was hopeless.
“Then can we continue?”
He nodded, and lay back on the couch, with no pillow, feeling defeated.
* * *
He knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but he just couldn’t leave this like that. He dialed Hector’s number. It was late enough to hope it would be Hector and not Nina who picked it up.
He was in luck.
“Hello, Hector Viteri speaking.”
“Hi. So I’ve been to the shrink. And we need to make some things clear. About your birthday. You did not quote unquote throw me across your shoulder and force yourself on me like a caveman, okay? Also you did not feel ‘entitled’ to it because it was your birthday. It was my idea, remember? We were just messing around, I wanted it. And I did not ‘invent the guardian persona to protect myself from you’, alright? Come on, stop blaming yourself for things that are not even an issue!”
He heard Hector sigh. “The state you are in is my fault. I should have paid more attention, seen through you. You were giving me a lot of signals, and still I failed to notice. Even if it wasn’t the case on my birthday, I have hurt you. But this isn’t a conversation I would like to have over the phone. Thanks for going to the therapist. Please, keep doing so, Wyatt. Goodnight.”
“W-wait! Please don’t hang up. I’m sorry. I should have talked to you. Please don’t give up on me completely. I-I still love you.”
There was a long silence on the other end. Then Hector spoke quietly. “No. I am sorry. I am not giving up on you. I want you to have space, time and a clarity of mind… We can talk again in a few months.”
He’d had too much of ‘space and time’. Clarity of mind, he’d been working on. But months? That sounded like eternal torment. Though he guessed it was still better than the previous never. “I hope we can make it weeks instead… How are you doing? The injury, is it healing well?”
“I’m fine, Wyatt… What about you?”
“I’m okay. Listen, I know I said some really shitty dramatic things in Cairo, and that’s why you think you’ve been hurting me, but I didn’t actually mean most of them, that’s not how I felt when I was with you. I just panicked… And yes, I know we already had this conversation, but this time I’m calm, and I really mea-”
“That’s enough, Wyatt.” Hector cut him off softly. “Please, discuss this with Dr. Ely. I can’t trust myself with reading you anymore. If she confirms your interpretation, and you still wish it, we will see each other soon enough. For now, have a good night and best of luck with your studies.”
“Alright… goodnight, Hector. Thank you, and sorry for bothering you.”
When the call ended, Wyatt sat on his bed, feeling a little better. It might have not been a big victory, but at least it seemed Hector was still willing to talk to him.