When I awoke sometime later, I found that the storm had not abated at all. I was only slightly drier than I had been, and when I reached for my clothes, I found that they were still quite damp. Nonetheless, not wanting the doctor to find me in a state of undress, I put them back on and huddled within the blanket. I sat in the car, listening to the rain pounding against the roof. The terror that had filled me while I was in the forest was mostly gone, and I stared placidly into the dark. My mind went back to the last day I was with my parents, and I remembered the water surrounding me after my father smashed me with the jar. I recalled the feelings I'd had that day and compared them to my feelings in the forest. They were the same—fear, helplessness, weakness—all the things I had told myself I would never allow myself to feel again. I was disgusted with myself for succumbing to them, and I silently chastised myself as I sat, waiting for the storm to move on. About half an hour later, the rain stopped, almost as quickly as it had begun.
My eyes closed as I tried to work up the courage to get out of the car to let the doctor know I was all right. I told myself that he would never hurt me or let anyone else hurt me, and that I would no longer allow myself to be afraid. I managed to convince myself of this enough to fold up the blanket and exit the car. I walked toward the front of the house, but I made it only a few steps when Doctor Clark appeared on the porch of the house, the Johnsons not far behind him. My initial reaction was to freeze, my feet ready to flee back into the forest, but then I remembered my resolve to not give into fear, and I stood up straight and just stared at the doctor. What he did next astonished me completely.
He let out a joyous shout and rushed down the porch steps before crashing into me, wrapping his arms around me and laughing. “Oh, Erik,” he cried, “I was so worried!” He held onto me tightly and didn’t seem to notice that I didn’t return the hug. My arms stayed at my sides, and I simply stood there, unmoving. He pulled back and held onto my arms while he looked into my face. He must not have liked what he saw there, because he frowned deeply and said, “Erik, are you feeling all right?”
“I'm feeling fine, Doctor Clark,” I responded, satisfied with the unemotional tone I had adopted. I looked at him and continued, “I'm sorry I made you worry. I got scared, but it won’t ever happen again, I promise.”
“It's all right, Erik, I understand,” he said. Then his face crinkled in confusion. “How did you get back here?”
I still didn’t move, but I answered, “I heard you and…” I pause to push down the pungent fear that threatened to well up at the thought of the other men, “…and the other people, but I didn’t trust them, so I followed you back here. I didn’t want to expose the little girl to my hideousness again, so I waited in the car.”
The last comment was only partially true, but I didn’t want to admit to him or to myself that I was afraid that she would started screaming again if she saw me. I glanced over his shoulder at the house and saw Mrs. Johnson standing in the doorway, one hand on the little girl's shoulder. I suppressed a shudder as I turned my face away from them so that they couldn’t see the left side.
“If it's all right with you, Doctor Clark, I'd really like to leave now,” I said, dropping my voice to a near-whisper.
“Of course, Erik,” he said softly. “Why don’t you get in the car and let me said goodbye to Mrs. Johnson?”
I nodded and climbed into the front seat while he walked back to the house. I kept my face turned away from them, but I could hear bits and pieces of what he said to her. He apparently told her thank you and asked if she would inform the men who had helped search that I was safe and sound. I snorted derisively at that. I may have been safe, but I was far from sound. I could feel the war within myself as my weak, fearful nature tried to conquer my new determination to be strong. I watched silently as the doctor knelt down and said something I couldn’t hear to the girl, and I didn’t speak as he got into the car, but I did turn my head so that I was looking forward. I stayed silent the entire trip back to his home, and when we got inside, I was about to head up the stairs when I felt the doctor's hand on my shoulder. I turned to see the frown on his face as he looked at me with concern.
“Erik, I think we need to talk,” he said simply.
“If it's all the same to you, Doctor, I really don’t feel like talking right now,” I responded rather coldly. A pang of regret hit me when I saw his frown deepen. I didn’t want to be callous toward the only man who had ever been kind to me, but I was determined not to show him the battle that was raging within me.
He said nothing for a moment, and then he dropped his hand and nodded. “Fine, Erik, we don’t need to talk right now, but we will talk later,” he said sternly. “Do you understand me?”I simply nodded and turned my back on him to walk up the stairs. At the landing, I paused, unsure of where I wanted to go. The library beckoned me like an irresistible siren of old, but before giving in to its lure, I went to my room and changed into dry clothing. Once done, I entered my favorite room, stood by the leather armchair, and closed my eyes, inhaling the unique scents, and then I sat down and rested my head against the back of the chair. I didn’t feel like reading, so I simply sat there, letting the peacefulness of the room flow over me and allowing the turbulent emotions raging through me to settle into an uneasy, roiling pool deep in the pit of my stomach.