“Mr. Desmond, sir?”
I cringed at the sound of my spineless secretary's voice, but I reached out my left hand carefully and pressed the intercom button.
“Yes, Miss Parker?”
“There is a Doctor Adams here.” There was a pause. “Are you hurt, sir?”
I glared at Sebastian for a moment. “Would she be upset if she knew I was,” I asked facetiously, knowing she couldn’t hear me, “or would she be relieved?”
With a return glare, he smacked the button. “Send him right in, Miss Parker,” he said tightly.
When he continued to scowl at me, I raised my eyebrows, trying to look innocent. “What?” I asked. “She's never even seen me, and every time she speaks, I think she's about to faint or cry. She's terrified of a man she's never met.”
“Again,” he answered as the door opened and I swiveled away from it, “you've never given her a reason to think otherwise.” I took a deep breath as he spoke to the man who had just entered with a great deal of noise. “Doctor Adams, thank you for coming so quickly.”
“Well, Mr. Holdaway, I must say that you have made it well worth my while to do so. Although, I must admit that the chance to actually meet the elusive Mr. Desmond did factor into my decision to come.”
A low growl escaped me at his words, and I unconsciously clenched my fists. “Damn it!” I grunted at the pain as my right fingers moved and I felt at least one scab on my left palm come free.
There was silence behind me as I breathed deeply in an attempt to control the pain. Suddenly, Sebastian was before me.
“Mr. Desmond,” he said softly, “turn around and let him help you.”
“Find someone else,” I snarled. “He just wants to stare at the monster.”
I had thought I had spoken quietly, but the doctor answered. “Oh, no, Mr. Desmond,” he said quickly, “that isn't what I meant at all. It's just that you keep to yourself, and I was curious, that's all. Please forgive me if I came across as insensitive.”
I stared at Sebastian for a moment, and he raised his eyebrows in question.
“Fine,” I breathed, and I made sure my wall was firmly in place before I slowly swiveled my chair around to face my first stranger in five years. I kept my face blank as he came into view, and, other than a slight widening of his eyes, there was no other reaction from him. He seemed to be about sixty years old, and he had a kind face, but I had no desire to be kind back.
“Not what you expected, doctor?” I said with disdain.
“No,” he answered, cocking his head. “I expected you to be much older. The genius of your art speaks of someone of much greater years.”
My own eyes narrowed as I tried to determine if he was being serious or not. “Is that all that surprises you?”
“Surprises? Yes.” He smiled, and his eyes lit up. “Now, let’s see what I can do about your hands, shall we?”
I was still not sure of his sincerity, but my right hand was killing me, so I slowly laid both on my desk, palms down. He looked at my right one without touching it and frowned.
“Will you tell me what happened?”
“I punched something.”
He glanced up at me, and his frown deepened. “Hmm, that explains the split knuckles and the swelling. I take it this something wasn’t very forgiving?”
“No, walls don’t tend to give as much as a punching bag.”
“You punched a wall?”
I simply nodded, and he gently lifted my left hand and turned it over. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but his brows came closer together, and his mouth turned down even more.
“From the mirror I punched before the wall.”
“Do you mind if I ask why you did this?”
He looked up at me. “Yes, you mind?”
“Yes, I mind. Just help me. You don’t need to know my reasons.”
“No, I don’t,” he agreed, “but I’d like to help with more than these injuries if I can. I need to know what you’re thinking to do that.”
“No, thank you,” I said tightly. “I don’t need your help or anyone else’s as far as my thoughts are concerned.”
My head snapped toward Sebastian, and at my glare, he shut up. Suddenly, I hissed in a breath and tried to snatch my hand from the doctor’s grip, but he held it tightly. He was carefully prodding at the cuts on my palm with a pair of tweezers.
“Are you sure you got all the glass out of these?” he asked without looking up.
“They were pretty large shards, so yes, I’m sure.” Another stab of pain flowed through my hand, and again, I tried to pull away.
Doctor Adams looked at me disapprovingly. “Stop it, Mr. Desmond! I can’t help you if I can’t touch you. I know it hurts, but I have to make sure there’s no glass in here.”
A sudden picture of Doctor Clark picking glass from my head slammed into my brain, and I froze. I closed my eyes and envisioned everything Henry Clark must have had to do to save my life that night. My teeth clenched as I saw him in my mind’s eye doing exactly what Doctor Adams was doing at that moment.
“Mr. Desmond? Are you all right?”
I tried to speak, but my jaw would not relax. I opened my eyes and gazed into the concerned ones of the doctor, and I nodded, but I couldn’t keep the tears from forming in my eyes.
“Does it hurt that much?” Doctor Adams stopped his examination and waited for an answer I could not give, so I shook my head and looked beseechingly at Sebastian.
He immediately dropped to his knees by my side and whispered, “Erik, what is it?”
I bit my bottom lip and swallowed thickly, but I couldn’t get my mouth to work. I was ashamed that I couldn’t control myself, but the tears began to fall as images of Doctor Clark flew through my mind. I saw him as he was the first time I opened my eyes at his house in Willow; I saw his smile as he taught me to read and write; I saw his happiness when I opened my presents at my birthday party; I saw his relief when I came back safely to the hotel in Knoxville.
“Talk to me, please,” Sebastian implored as he took my face in his hands.
It was the first time he had ever touched my scar, but I couldn’t bring myself to care, and I only shook my head and laid it on his shoulder. I felt him tense for a second before he moved his hands to hold me to him as I began to sob.
“Shh, everything is going to be okay,” he whispered. He spoke louder to the doctor. “Doctor Adams, will you excuse us for a minute, please?”
I vaguely heard the door open and shut, but it didn’t really register. The grief that had suddenly bashed me over the head was overwhelming, and all I could do was cry. As the images of Doctor Clark continued to bombard me, different, more painful memories started to join them: my mother’s rare but beautiful smile, her tender touches, her apologies for not stopping my father from hurting me even when she herself was bruised and bleeding, her loving words each night.
“I killed them, Sebastian.”
I knew my words are no louder than a breath, but he heard them clearly.
“What are you talking about?”
I raised my head and saw the worry on his face.
“I killed them. Doctor Clark and my mother are dead because of me.”
The worry quickly changed to anger. “No! Erik, they are dead because of that bastard you call a father! He killed them, not you!”
I shook my head. “If it weren’t for me, they’d still be alive. My mother killed herself because of me, and my father killed Doctor Clark because of me. Their deaths are my fault!”
“Erik, stop it! You did nothing wrong! You were just a kid! Their deaths are your father’s fault, not yours!”
Shame and guilt had filled me to overflowing, but his words broke through just a tiny bit. I stared at him blankly for a moment and tried to believe him, but it was incredibly hard. More memories besieged me, and suddenly my solid wall crumbled to dust as anguish replaced the shame and guilt, and I felt my heart break.
“Sebastian?” My voice was small like a child’s.
The tears had never stopped completely, but they started to fall in a torrent, and I laid my head on his shoulder again. “I miss my mama.”
I felt him shudder, and his voice cracked as he answered, “I know you do, Erik. I’m so sorry.” He wrapped his arms around me and held me close as sobs ripped through my entire body.
Eventually, the tears stopped, and I sat up. I raised my left hand and wiped my face with the back of it. I hung my head and took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
I looked up at Sebastian, and he was wiping the tears from his own face. “For this, for losing control, for dumping all of this on you.”
“Erik, listen to me,” he said softly. “Never, ever apologize to me for this. I have been waiting five years for you to tell me how you feel, for you to admit that you miss your mother and Doctor Clark, for you to let go and let yourself grieve for them. Promise me one thing, though.”
“What is that?”
“Promise me that you won’t hide away from me again. I know how you’ve been hurting, and you need to give yourself permission to express that pain.”
I was not sure I could do that, but I nodded anyway.
“Say it, Erik.”
“I promise I’ll try. That’s the best I can do.”
He nodded. “Then I’ll take that for now.” He tilted his head and gave me a small smile. “Can I get the doctor back in here now and get you fixed up?”
I couldn’t bring myself to smile back, but I took a deep breath and nodded. He pressed the intercom button.
“Yes, Mr. Desmond?”
“It’s me, Miss Parker. Can you please send Doctor Adams back in?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Holdaway. Right away.”
I felt panic building at the thought that a complete stranger would see me in this state, and I began building my wall back up to stave it off. The door opened, and Doctor Adams walked in.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Desmond?” His concern seemed genuine, and I left a few blocks off of my wall.
“Yes, Doctor,” I said, and I inwardly flinched at the coldness I had put back in my tone. I tried to soften it a bit. “Please accept my apologies for making you wait.”
“Nonsense,” he stated as he sat across the desk from me. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you should never be ashamed of showing emotion. Especially in front of a friend like Mr. Holdaway here.”
I glanced at Sebastian and couldn’t keep my lips from curling up when I saw him mouth, “I told you so.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I really appreciate that.”
“Don’t mention it, my boy. Now, let’s take care of these hands. I don’t see any glass in your left palm, but a few of these cuts will need to be sutured if they’re going to heal properly with minimal scarring.” He paused and looked at me closely. “I don’t think you need any more of that, do you?”
His words cut me as sharply as a knife, but his eyes were distressed, and I realized that he didn’t want me to suffer more than I already had.
I bit back the angry retort that wanted to escape my lips. “No, sir,” I said softly, “I don’t need any more scars.”
He smiled slightly and reached into the bag on the desk. “Is your right hand cut up as badly?”
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“Hmm. That presents a problem. I can tell by looking at it that your right hand is broken, but I don’t want to cast it with sutured cuts.” He stared at me for a moment, thinking. “I suppose I can try to splint your hand around the cuts until they heal and then give you a cast after that. It shouldn’t take more than a week or so before I can cast it properly. However,” he fixed me with a stern gaze, “you have to promise me not to try and use your hand for that week. If you try to use it before it’s healed, you risk permanent damage, and I shudder to think of what the world will miss out on if you can’t create your art.”
A warm feeling swept through me as he spoke, and I began to think that maybe Sebastian was right. Maybe there really were people who would see me, not as a monster, but as a gifted artist. Doctor Adams reminded me of Doctor Clark, and I smiled. “I’ll remember that.”
He pulled out a syringe and glass bottle from his bag.
“This,” he said as he filled the syringe, “is procaine. It’s a local anesthetic that will numb your hand so that you won’t feel pain from the suturing. I’ll splint your right hand before I suture, and I’m sorry to say that it will hurt, but there’s not much I can do about that.” He held my left hand still, and I sucked in a breath as he injected the medication. “Now we wait.”
“Doctor Adams,” Sebastian said, “can I get you something to drink?”
“Yes, please, Mr. Holdaway, thank you. Some water would be nice.”
“Mr. Desmond, will you be all right if I leave? I promise I’ll be quick.”
It shamed me anew when fear began to creep along the edges of my mind at the thought of being alone with the doctor. I mentally berated myself for allowing that hated emotion through my decidedly fragile wall.
“I’ll be just fine, Sebastian.”
He looked at me closely and then nodded. “Do you want anything?”
I raised my eyebrows incredulously. “Are you serious? I have a numb left hand and a broken right one. What exactly am I supposed to use to hold the glass?”
“I’ll get you a straw.”
I couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “That might work. Water will be fine, thank you.”
“Two waters. Got it,” he said with a smile before disappearing up the stairs at the back of the office.
“Where is he going?” Doctor Adams was pricking my fingers with a needle. “Can you feel this?”
“He’s going to my apartment, and no, I can’t.”
“Good.” He took a needle and thread from his bag. “You live here?”
“Yes, in the penthouse. I do own the building, after all.”
“I was going to ask you about that.” He paused and looked at me. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
“That depends,” I answered cautiously. “What will you do with the information?”
“If you mean will I sell your story to the highest bidder, the answer is no. I hold doctor-patient confidentiality to be sacred, and I would never do that to you or anyone else.”
“All right, then, ask your questions. Understand, however, that I may not answer them.”
“Understood.” He began to suture my hand. “So, about the building. How did you manage to afford it? Family money?”
“Not exactly,” I said slowly, not sure how much I want to reveal to this man. “I…came into some money when I was seventeen.”
“Something like that.”
“But not from family?”
My breath hitched as I thought of Doctor Clark, and Doctor Adams noticed.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You don’t have to answer that.”
“Let’s just say that he was more of a father to me than my father ever was.”
“Unfortunately, I can say that I understand that. My own father was not the greatest person to be around, especially when he was drinking. Luckily for my sister and mother and me, he drank himself to the grave by the time I was five years old.”
“Luckily for you,” I mumbled.
“I take it you weren’t so lucky.” It was a statement, not a question.
The fury I thought was gone flooded back through my veins, and I snarled, “No, I wasn’t that lucky.”
“Did he do that to you?” He gestured toward my face.
My snarl turned into a low growl, and he held up his hands. “Never mind. You don’t have to talk about it.”
I seethed silently as he finished with my left hand, and after bandaging it, he reached back into his bag and pulled out several wooden strips and a rolled bandage.
“I apologize ahead of time,” he said, reaching for my right hand. “This is going to hurt, but I need you to remove your jacket.” He gently lifted my hand, and I managed to keep silent. It had been five years since I had felt physical pain like that, but the restraint ingrained in me from my earliest memory quickly found its way back into my mind, and I simply gritted my teeth. The anger that had blossomed within me helped, too. The doctor’s eyes widened when I didn’t make a sound, and he asked, “It doesn’t hurt?”
“Yes, it hurts like hell,” I muttered darkly.
He frowned as he carefully pulled my jacket over my hand and laid it on the chair next to him. Then he unbuttoned my cuff, rolled my sleeve up to bare my forearm, and started to lay splints alongside my fingers. “Then how are you managing not to yell or scream or cry or something?”
“First of all,” I said slowly, “anger is an amazing emotion that can block out a lot of things.” I grunted as he straightened my middle finger. “Second of all, I learned early on that crying just made things worse. By the time I was five, I could take just about anything without making a sound.”
“Mr. Desmond,” Doctor Adams stopped his work and looked at me with horror, “that’s horrible!”
“It is,” I agreed, “but it happened. and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“You know,” he said as he resumed splinting my hand, “there are a lot of good doctors in New York that can help you through your…issues.”
“Issues? That’s what you call it?”
“I don’t know what to call it, to be honest, because I don’t know what you went through.” He spoke quickly to keep me from responding. “You don’t have to tell me, but you really should talk to someone. I’d venture a guess that even your good friend doesn’t know everything. Am I right?”
“No one knows everything,” I stated bluntly, “except the bastard whose blood flows through my veins, my dead mother, and me.” The venom dripping from my words surprised even me, and an uncomfortable silence fell over us as the doctor worked.
Sebastian returned with two glasses of water, one with a straw, and he placed them on the desk, glancing between us nervously.
“Everything all right here?” he asked.
“No, Sebastian,” I said, glaring at the doctor, “everything is not all right. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the fact that I would like to be able to paint again someday, this man would not be sitting here anymore.”
The completed splinting had immobilized my hand from the tips of my fingers to my wrist, and, even through the anger, I noticed that the pain was significantly less when he turned my hand over to deal with the gashes on my palm. When he finished suturing these, he bandaged my entire hand.
As he put his equipment back in his bag, the doctor said quietly, “You need to keep the bandages dry. I’ll be back in a week to take the stitches out. I’ll leave some bandages here in case these get wet or if the non-sutured wounds bleed and soak them. You will have some use of your left hand, but remember that you are not to use your right for any reason if you want to have full and proper use of it again. Call me immediately if you have any fever or if your hands start to hurt or feel hot. That could be a sign of infection.” He finished and looked at me. “Mr. Desmond, I’m truly sorry I upset you, but I stand by what I said. Think about it.”
Sebastian stepped up to him and shook his hand. “Thank you, doctor. We both,” he glanced at me, “really appreciate you taking your time to come here.”
“Don’t mention it, Mr. Holdaway. I was glad to do it.” He nodded at me once. “Mr. Desmond, I’ll see you in a week.”
“Yes, you will.”
He turned to leave.
He stopped and looked at me.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes briefly before opening them and staring into his. “Thank you, sir. For helping me with this,” I held up my hands, “and for the advice. I’ll think about it.”
He smiled. “You are more than welcome, sir.” With one last nod, he left my office, and I leaned my head on the back of my chair.
“What are you going to think about?” Sebastian sat in the chair the doctor had just vacated.
I tilted my head and studied my friend. “I am going to think about how much of my childhood you get to learn.”
I chuckled mirthlessly as his mouth dropped open, and I stood up.
“Come on,” I said, heading toward the stairs. “I need your help to get something to eat considering I can’t feel either of my hands right now.”Without a word, he followed me, still staring at me in shock.