My office door opened slowly, and my friend stuck his head around the edge of it and smiled at me. “Yes, my liege?”
My upper lip curled in frustration. “Very funny. Is he here yet?”
“I told you I’d let you know when he gets here, and I will, Your Majesty.” His condescending tone contrasted sharply with his obsequious words.
I snarled at him, and he grinned widely before pulling his head back and shutting the door
The last seven days had been absolute hell.
I had never realized before how much I relied on my right hand to do things. The first day after having it splinted, Sebastian caught me trying to use it against the doctor’s orders, and he scolded me like I was a tardy schoolboy. The second time, less than an hour later, resulted in him strapping it to my chest underneath my shirt so that it was completely immobilized.
“I just don’t want to hear your whining later when you realize you’ve ruined it for good,” he explained as he wound a rolled bandage around my chest, pinning my hand to me.
I knew that he was worried for me, though, and despite the fact that I was totally helpless like that, I thanked him and received a smile in return. The problem was that I was not left-handed, and, on top of that, my left hand was still bandaged, so I had to have Sebastian’s help for every little thing—preparing meals, dressing, bathing. I had managed to figure out how to feed myself, so that was a small consolation, but I was more than ready to have the bandages removed. I also knew that, even though my right hand would have a plaster cast on it, at least it wouldn’t be strapped down any more.
Sebastian’s fawning words had started the third day. I had asked him to get a book for me, and my eyebrows had risen when he answered, “Of course, Your Highness, at once. Your wish is my command,” and he had scurried off to the library. When he returned with the book, he set it down on the desk before me and bowed his head. “Would you like me to turn the pages for you, sire?”
“What are you doing?”
He kept his eyes on the floor. “What do you mean, sire? I am just obeying your every command.” He glanced up at me with a frown.
I frowned back. “What are you talking about? I haven’t commanded you to do anything.”
“Oh, really?” he asked, astonishment causing his eyes to widen. “Would you like to tell me what you just said?”
“I asked you for a book.”
“Asked? There was no question in there, Erik,” he said tightly. “You said, and I quote, ‘Get me Power’s book on Italian art, Sebastian. The one with the red cover.’”
My mouth opened in retort, but I stopped myself and closed it slowly before grinning sheepishly, dropping my own eyes.
“You’re right, and I’m sorry.” I raised my eyes to him and was gratified to see him fighting his own grin. “I’m just a little frustrated with my limitations right now.”
“A little?” The grin won, and he laughed. “Erik, for the past three days, you have been insufferable!” He stepped up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t mind helping you, my friend, but remember that I am your friend, please, and not your subject.”
“I’ll do my best,” I responded.
I hadn’t succeeded completely. Hence the liege comment when I asked about the arrival of the doctor. At least Sebastian was being subservient in jest now, and each time he was, it was a gentle reminder for me to rein in my demanding tendencies.
I had been able to use my left hand a little over the last week, but my motions had been less than agile, and I didn’t like the feeling at all. A flash of anger flowed through me when I thought about the fact that my right hand was going to be useless to me for a much longer time.
The door to my office opened, and Sebastian entered with his grin still in place. “He’s here, Erik,” he said as he led Doctor Adams into the room.
“Good morning, Mr. Desmond,” the doctor said pleasantly as he placed a large box and his bag on my desk. “How are you feeling today?”
“Frustrated and helpless, Doctor. How about yourself?”
He just chuckled and took my left hand in his. “Unfortunately sir, that will not change in the near future.”
The bandages were removed, and he carefully examined the sutures. “These look good,” he said, pulling some equipment from his bag. After cleaning the cuts, he quickly removed the threads. “Flex your hand slowly,” he said, and I complied. “How does that feel?”
“It feels just fine, thank you.”
“Good.” He moved his attention to my other hand, and I spent a few minutes working out the tension in my left hand. Soon, both were free of bandages and sutures.
“All right,” he said, “time for the cast.” He turned to Sebastian. “Mr. Holdaway, could you get me a bowl of warm water, please?”
As soon as Sebastian was gone, Doctor Adams looked at me. “So?”
I narrowed my eyes at him and pressed my lips together. “I haven’t talked to him yet.”
With a shake of his head, the doctor said, “I stand by what I said before. You need to talk to someone. If not him, then someone else.”
I frowned at that. “There is no one else.”
“What do you mean?”
I blew out a heavy breath. “I mean that there is no one else.”
“No one you can talk to?”
“No one in my life, doctor. I have business associates, employees, no family members, and exactly one friend.”
“Really? No…special person?”
For a moment I didn’t know what he meant, but then it hit me. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said stiffly. “As if any woman would be able to tolerate being around me for any period of time.”
“I heard that.”
My head swiveled slowly toward the stairs where Sebastian was balancing a bowl in his hands.
“I know you did, Sebastian. Do you really think I didn’t know you were there?”
Putting the bowl on my desk, he glared at me.
“I thought you weren’t…”
“Not now,” I interrupted him, and, although the glare remained, he said nothing more.
An uncomfortable silence fell over us as Doctor Adams went to work casting my hand. No one spoke during the procedure, and when he was done, white plaster covered my hand from my fingertips to just short of my elbow.
“Now,” Doctor Adams said as he cleaned up, “it will take a day or two for the plaster to completely dry. Until then, you need to keep your arm in a sling or you could damage the cast. After it is dry, you can get rid of the sling.”
I held the cast up in front of my face. “How long?”
“I’ll be back in six weeks, take off the cast, and we’ll see. I would really like for you to come to my office at that point so that I can take an x-ray to make sure everything healed properly, but I’ll understand if you can’t. It’s possible I could get a portable machine here, but it would be a huge hassle.” He shrugged, stood up, and held out his left hand.
I took it in mine and shook it. “Thank you, Doctor Adams. Again, I’ll think about it. That’s all I can promise at this point.”
“Then I’ll take that promise,” he said with a smile, and then he left.
As soon as the door shut behind him, Sebastian said, “Now can I yell at you?”
I sighed and dropped into my chair. “Go ahead.”
He said nothing for a moment and then moved to the windows behind the desk. I spun the chair to follow his path, keeping my eyes on him. With a louder sigh than mine, he spoke softly. “It is a beautiful view, isn’t it?”
My eyebrows rose. “That’s yelling at me?”
“No,” he said, his back to me, “I’m not going to yell.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I was just thinking that you must be very lonely, Erik.”
“While Doctor Adams finished with you, it came to me. You have all of this…” He gestured around my office. “…money, fame, every comfort possible, but you have no one to share it with.”
“I have you.”
He scoffed. “You know what I mean.”
“What about you?” I didn’t want to talk about this, and I tried to deflect the conversation onto him. “You have no one either.”
He laughed without humor. “I could if I wanted to, Erik. I could have a different woman every night if I really tried. Besides, I have my family back in Knoxville. I haven’t seen them in forever, but I talk to them every week.”
“You never told me that.”
“I didn’t want to highlight the fact that your family…well…”
“Right,” I said shortly. “Who’s in Knoxville?”
“My mother and my father, my two brothers, my sister, and a slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins. They keep asking me when I am going to come back to visit.”
“And what, Erik? I promised you when we left Tennessee that I wouldn’t leave you to fend for yourself, and I meant it.”
“That was five years ago, Sebastian,” I said, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I was a scared, messed up kid.”
“And now you’re a scared, messed up man,” he said seriously.
I stood up slowly and moved past him to the windows. I leaned forward and rested my forehead on the glass. “Yes, I am,” I agreed. “And I have to tell you, Sebastian, I am sick and tired of it.”
He moved so that he could see my face, and I turned toward him without breaking contact with the glass.
“Then do something about it, Erik.”
“And just what do you suggest, oh wise one?”
He smiled briefly but then became serious again. “You know what I’m going to say.”
I sighed and started pacing the length of my office. I did know. He wanted me to meet new people, to trust that people wouldn’t run screaming from me the instant they saw me. I stopped pacing suddenly and caught his eyes with mine.
“Do you want to know what my first memory is?”
His eyes went wide, and he nodded.
“I had a nightmare about it the day I did this.” I held up my casted hand. “I was four. My parents had left me alone for the day while they went to look for work, and I had been playing on the floor of our cabin when they came home. The door slammed open, and I was between it and the table. My father came in first, and as soon as I saw him, I tried to scurry under the table, but I wasn’t fast enough, and he took one step forward and deliberately stomped on my hand. My mother was right behind him and tried to stop him, but he backhanded her across the face and told her to get dinner ready. Later that night, when he was asleep, she told me she loved me and that she was sorry she didn’t stop him.” I clenched my teeth tightly and took a deep breath. “He brutalized her just as much as he did me, and she apologized to me for not being able to protect me from him. I’m sure he had done things to me before that day, but that’s the first thing I remember clearly. Every day after that—every day, Sebastian—I was kicked, punched, slapped, whipped, you name it. The beatings stopped the day he almost killed me. Doctor Clark…” My eyes started to burn with unshed tears. “…he told me that I had almost thirty healed fractures. Ribs, fingers, arms, legs. The thing that he was surprised about was that I only have a few external scars from the beatings. I guess my father was really good at keeping all the damage inside. I can only imagine how my mother managed to keep me alive and able to function properly.” I flexed my left hand. “I do remember her putting splints on me often, but at the time, I didn’t know what she was doing or why.”
I stopped and looked at my friend. Tears were streaming down his face, and the agony on his face was almost more than I could bear. I turned away from him to look down at Central Park.
“She would have loved the Park, you know,” I said softly. “She had a little garden out back of the cabin, and she brought her flowers into the house, but my father didn’t like it, so after the first few beatings, she left them outside. Whenever I got the chance, I would sneak out just to look at them. They were beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as the woman who had planted them.” I turned back to Sebastian who hadn’t moved. “Do you think maybe she had medical training?”
He frowned and shook his head. “What?”
“I think maybe she did. How else would she have known what to do with my injuries?”
“I don’t know. Erik...” he swallowed and wiped his face. “Erik, I’m sorry. You were right; I didn’t understand. I thought…”
“What did you think? That it couldn’t have been that bad? That I didn’t have a really good reason not to trust anyone? What, Sebastian? What did you think?” The melancholy that had filled me as I told my story vanished, and anger built in me again—anger at my father for his brutality, anger at my mother for leaving me, anger at Sebastian for doubting me, and anger at myself for my weakness and inability to change anything. “Did you think I was lying to you about what I went through? Did you think I was exaggerating? Did you think that I had no right to wish my father dead? What did you think?!”
“I’m so sorry, Erik,” was all he said, and then he spun and fled from the room.
I stared after him and then stormed to the stairs. Rushing up them, I practically ran to my studio. I flung myself down on the stool in front of my drawing table and snatched a sketchbook from the shelf above it. Opening it to a blank page, I grabbed a piece of charcoal and began furiously scribbling with my left hand. It was difficult to draw that way, but I had so many emotions flowing through me that I had to get them out or I would explode. I didn’t get like this very often, but when I did, I drew without even being aware of what I was doing.
Page after page after page drifted down to the floor, all of them covered with violent images. I continued in this way until my fingers began to cramp and the charcoal dropped to the table. It was at that point that I looked down at the drawing I had just completed. I had drawn myself, but unlike most of my drawings, not as a child. I was a man, my hands were around the neck of my father, and he was very clearly dead.
I looked around me, exhausted, and saw dozens upon dozens of drawings littering the floor. I left the last picture on the table and slid off of the stool. Dropping to my knees, I picked up one paper after another. All of them were of death—my death, my father’s death, my mother’s death, Doctor Clark’s death, and even random death. I had drawn one picture of a man being trampled by a horse and another of a Roman crucifixion. Over and over again I had drawn brutal, sadistic images of mutilations and torture. The detail in them scared even me, and I slowly gathered them up into a large pile. The only one I didn’t take was the last one. That one I left where it was as I walked out of the studio with the others and carefully, almost reverently, laid them in my fireplace.
I stared at the pile of papers for a moment, and then I knelt down, struck a match, and placed it against the edge of the drawings. Immediately they burst into flame, and I lay down in front of the fire to watch until they were nothing but ashes.
I was still there twenty minutes later when footsteps sounded on the stairs and there was a soft knock on the door. I slowly got to my feet and said, “Come in, Sebastian.”
The door opened, and he stood on the threshold, face ashen, eyes red, and hands clasped tightly before him.
“Are you sure, Erik?”
I sighed and turned my back on him. “Just come in.” I dragged my feet as I walked back to my studio, and I stood at the table, staring at the drawing I had left there. Sebastian followed me silently and again stopped in the doorway. I reached out my hand and traced the two figures on the paper. “You missed it,” I whispered.
“Missed what?” Sebastian’s words were tentative, as if he was expecting me to explode at any moment.
“My art,” I said the word as if I were talking about something vile. I snatched the drawing up, whirled to face him, and shook it at him. “This, Sebastian! This is what is inside of me every second of every day! I can hide it well—I learned to hide my true feelings by the time I was five—but it is always there! The pain, the hatred, the fury, they never go away!”
I crumpled the picture up in my fist and threw it at him. He flinched as if I had thrown a boulder, but he caught the paper and slowly straightened it out. I could see him fighting tears, but I just pushed him out of the way and walked to my bedroom.
My maid service had done a wonderful job cleaning up, and there were no traces of glass or blood anywhere in the room or in the adjoining bathroom. Sebastian had bought a new mirror the day after the incident, and the only evidence that anything had happened was covering my right hand. A week before, I had hired a seamstress who had altered several shirts and jackets so that they would fit over my cast. I unbuttoned the ones I had on and let them slip off of my shoulders onto the floor.
I moved into the bathroom and turned on the water. My hand was black from the charcoal, and I held it under the stream and watched as the clear, pure liquid flowing down the drain quickly turned a murky dark gray. I couldn’t help but think that it was a perfect metaphor for my life.
“I can create beautiful, clean, pure art, Sebastian.” I spoke softly, having heard him follow me. “But inevitably, I taint it with what is inside me. I can fake it for a while, make people believe through my drawings and sculptures that I am this wonderful, compassionate, creative person, but it always comes out in the end. I know what I am inside, and it’s not pretty.” He stepped up beside me and took my hand, grabbing a washcloth and helping me clean the final remnants of the charcoal off.
“I’m so sorry, Erik,” he choked out. “Please believe me.”
“I know you are, Sebastian. You told me that downstairs.” I pulled my hand from his grasp and sat down on the edge of the bathtub. “Doctor Adams was right.”
I looked up at him and frowned. “I need to talk to someone.”
Sebastian nodded and said, “All right, Who?”
“Not a doctor,” I said firmly, “and not you.” His face fell, and I felt a twinge of guilt, but I continued. “I’m sorry, Sebastian, but you just can’t understand. Neither can Doctor Adams or anyone else who didn’t experience it.” I had known for the past week who I should talk to, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to actually do it. I didn’t know what had changed, but I was finally ready. “I need to talk to Sarah McAllister.”
Sebastian’s eyes went wide, and his mouth dropped. “Are you sure?”
I huffed and stood up. “No! Sebastian, I’m not sure about any of this, but the one thing I know is that she understands. She understands in a way you never can.”
“Okay,” he said softly. “I’ll find her. It shouldn’t be too hard now that we know her last name.”
“Thank you,” I answered. “Now, if you don’t mind, I just want to rest for a while.”
He nodded and took one step toward the door before stopping. Without turning, he whispered, “Are we good, Erik?”
I sighed and dropped my head into my hand. “We’re good, Sebastian. Don’t worry. I’m not mad at you anymore.”
He said nothing else but only walked slowly away from me.I moved to my bedroom and lay down, but images of my pictures of death raced through my brain, and sleep did not come.