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Martin Vane Says Hello

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Part One: Chapter 1

“James Fitzpatrick Cummings, what the hell were you thinking?”

No one calls me by my whole name except my best friend Louise. And my mother. But she’s been gone for twenty years so unless the dead have risen since I stepped into the shower, I guess I’ll be answering to Louise.

When I stepped into the bedroom wrapped in a towel, Louise stood in the middle of the floor, hands on hips, red hair standing on end, face a mask of incredulity.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible as I tried to choke down laughter. With a hand towel, I continued to dry my hair, keeping an eye on Louise as she advanced on me.

“You are not seriously taking Lila Williams to that god-awful function at the country club!” This was not a question.

“Uh, yeah I am,” I stuttered. “She asked and I’m going.”

“Oh my fucking god you are not going!” Louise could be a tyrant when she felt like it. “I won’t let you!”

Louise had very little chance of actually wrestling me to the ground to keep me from doing whatever it is I want to do, but she’d tried before at least once and it hadn’t been pretty. I’d ended up with a bloody nose and a knee to the groin. I just couldn’t bring myself to hit a woman, best friend or not. Bully or not. Louise had stood beside me through hell and high water and I wasn’t about to risk losing her friendship. Nevertheless…

“We are not going to have this argument, Lou. You’re not eleven years old, I’m bigger than you, and I’m going.”

“No, you’re not. We’re taking Alex to a ballgame Friday night and there is no way I’m changing my plans!”

“You’re acting like a child,” I shot back as I rummaged through my drawer for a pair of briefs. “Besides,” I continued. “You’re not the boss of me!”

Louise laughed and settled herself on the end of my bed. “Seriously, Fitz, you can’t go to this dinner party. You’ll be the laughingstock of Center City.”

“I’m already the laughingstock, Lou,” I said. “Whether or not I go to this little soiree, the opinion of the fine folks of this little town will not be swayed.”

I reached for the towel and Louise flung herself on the bed to cover her eyes.

“It’s not like it’s anything you haven’t seen before,” I reminded her. Louise and I had been lovers for exactly three days—one long weekend—back in our freshman year at Hadley.

“I know, but I’d like to keep some semblance of propriety in our relationship,” she muttered through a pillow. “Just because I saw it once thirty years ago doesn’t mean I want to see it now. Jeez, Fitz!”

“All done,” I said as I pulled up my jeans. “Sensibilities intact.”

“Then let’s talk about this Lila thing,” she said. “First of all, she’s a skank. And second . . .”

“First things first,” I interrupted. “That’s a pretty offensive word to be using about Center City High’s Homecoming Queen!”

“Of 1985!” Louise laughed.

“But still, Lila is not a skank. Yes, she’s slept around some. Yes, she’s been married about a hundred times. And yes, she’s looking a little rough around the edges, but I think skank is a little harsh. Slut maybe?”

“Skank!” Louise insisted. “Take my word for it.”

“Okay, I give. But I’m still going.” I pulled a blue Oxford button up from my closet and shrugged into it. “Several of my best clients will be there and I want to put on a good show of support.”

“Support for them or for Lila?” Louise asked.

“Either and both,” I responded. “In or out?” I asked her motioning to my shirt tail.

“Out. You’re meeting with a group from drug rehab this morning,” Louise reminded me. “You don’t want to seem too buttoned down. Jeans, casual shirt, sandals. You’ll fit right in.”

“Great! Thanks. So, I look like a druggie.”

“A high-end druggie, mind you.” Louise scooted off the bed and headed down the hall. “They’ll be here in fifteen. Don’t dawdle!” she called over her shoulder.

I’d rather go down in bare feet, I thought, but Louise would have a heart attack. I didn’t mind the sandals, but there’s something about a six-foot-four guy in sandals that just seems a little off to me. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have put on a flak jacket and my shit kickers. But hind sight being twenty-twenty, I slipped into my sandals and walked downstairs, ready for my first appointment of the day.

“Guided meditation is relaxing, spiritual, and freeing,” I told the ten people sitting on mats on my conference room floor. This was the rehab group from the Pencrest Center just across the river, the one with the high white stone towers and the beautiful patios bordering the swift flowing water. (I always wonder, as I wander around the grounds of the center, who would think it a good idea to build a rehab facility with so many opportunities for suicide right outside the front door?)

Each group I’d worked with so far had managed to avoid the opportunity to throw themselves from the tower or into the river. And each group seemed to be just as diverse as this one: several housewives, two or three business men, a few free spirits who’d gotten carried away with the psychedelics. And then there were the serious drug addicts, the heroin and cocaine users who were as resistant to meditation and hypnotherapy as one could get.

As a group, they were a hard nut to crack. (No pun intended.) Of course, they looked like the other members of the group, but they had an edge that was a little harder, a look that was a little more desperate. I’m profiling here, I guess. But I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them. They’re actually my favorite group to work with when they’re this fresh out of rehab. Having made the commitment to stay clean, they are looking for any opportunity to fall off the wagon and roll all the way back to the beginning. They are the ones who make the biggest strides in my therapy sessions. They make up my highest percentage of successful clients. And it’s a great feeling when I can see and feel someone finally make that connection with their inner spirit, when the voice of wisdom kicks in and finally, finally they find themselves in touch with their own personal god. I love those moments. I am thankful for those moments. And I always wonder when a new group steps through my doors if I will ever experience those moments again.

I’d read through the files of each client before they’d arrived. In fact, I’d studied each one quite extensively, asking questions of their respective doctors and counselors at Pencrest, searching for clues that might aid me in my own therapy. Not every patient is a good candidate for alternative therapy, hypnotherapy included, and I feel it’s my responsibility to weed out anyone who might prove disruptive or negative. My all inclusive embrace of life as a giant melting pot does not extend to each and every session with my clients. Sometimes it takes a little mix-and-match to find a recipe of participants who are capable of supporting and helping each other with similar addictions or circumstances.

To bring a group of people together to form a whole is tricky business. Too many alphas and you have a war on your hands; too many victims and the energy becomes unbalanced without a lot of concentration and many, many injections of positive energy which can be wearing on everyone involved. Just as in everyday life, there are emitters and suckers, givers and takers. The balance needs to be just right to create the flow.

“In and out,” I said quietly. In just a few minutes, they had all reached a state of relaxation. As I’ve told Louise a thousand times--Louise who does not believe in the healing powers of meditation--meditation does not need to be a deep state of being. Simply relaxing and breathing is a great way to benefit from meditation. For me, it is the first step toward successful hypnotherapy.

I looked around the room at my new crop of clients, all of them sitting in a rather rigid pose of concentration. On the first day, even with experienced meditators, it is wise to keep the participants sitting up in Buddha-like attitude, hands palm up at their knees, imposing on them the silent restriction not to let go and simply fall asleep. That had happened in the past, in my early days of teaching and counseling. During my first classes, the deep breathing and relaxation had lured several clients to a peaceful state of sleep, their prone bodies already in the perfect state and position. And once the body allows the connection, it’s a hard habit to break.

Bernard’s head drooped. I saw it happen. In fact, his whole body seemed to deflate as his shoulders slumped and he folded in on himself.

I heard Louise’s intake of breath as she stood at the door. I felt the energy in the room ratchet up as Bernard tipped and then fell slowly on his side. A wave of energy shot out from Bernard, bowling over the meditators around him. Shaken back into the moment, they scrambled away from Bernard, making their way on hands and knees to the door. I moved to Bernard and knelt down beside him. The pulse in his neck was rapid and he felt clammy to my touch. He was breathing, taking very shallow, labored breaths.

“Call 911,” I said quietly to Louise who had her cell phone at the ready.

“There’s no need,” Bernard said. “I’m fine.”

Bernard didn’t move, however. He seemed content to just lay on his side, curled up on the floor like a caterpillar, his knees drawn up to his chest, eyes closed. I looked to Louise and nodded and she punched in the numbers. The others, all standing now, were clustered near the door or against the wall, excited, worried, and afraid.

“What the hell just happened?” a male voice asked urgently.

“Everything’s fine,” I said looking from Bernard to my other clients. “Please have a seat in the living room.”

It was the only thing I could think to say. I needed to be here for Bernard; I needed to figure out what had just happened; I needed to reassure my clients before sending them home. I heard sirens in the distance and reached once again to feel Bernard’s pulse. It had slowed markedly, but his breathing was still shallow and erratic.

“Send them away,” Bernard whispered.

“I need to speak with them before I send them home,” I responded.

“The sirens. I don’t need them.”

“Actually, you do,” I said. “You’ve had an event, Bernard. I’m not exactly sure what’s happened, but you need to be checked out to make sure you haven’t suffered a stroke or a heart attack.”

Bernard opened his eyes and smiled. “I’m fine, Dr. Cummings. Really.”

In one fluid motion, Bernard sat up and then rose to his feet.

“See? Perfectly fine.”

I had to admit, he did seem fine, better than fine. Bernard had a glow of health about him that I hadn’t noticed when he’d introduced himself to the group thirty minutes before. In fact, I’d noticed that of all the clients in this group, Bernard had seemed the most likely to resist. He’d made eye contact with me only once and I’d recognized in his eyes the deep brown pools of a man in despair, red rimmed and rheumy. The eyes that looked back at me, though, were neither clouded nor desperate nor brown. Bernard’s steady gaze pierced something in me. I felt a jolt of electricity shoot through me as my knees buckled and I found myself trembling before Bernard, shaken to my core.

“There is no need for fear,” Bernard said in a voice that was both calming and vibrant.

I looked up into his radiant gaze, confirming what had shocked me to my knees. Bernard’s eyes were now a brilliant blue.

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