A few silent tears fell from his client’s numb face and David knew that she was about to ask The Questions. She reached out to grasp the hand of her husband, who sat beside her.
“Is she alone?” Her lips trembled a little, “Is she happy?” David closed his eyes and pretended to meditate for a few seconds. When he opened them it was with a small, reassuring smile.
“She was never alone. And she is very happy.”
David could sense the grieving couple’s relief as he walked them to the door of his office; a clean, soothingly colored room with a few candles interrupting otherwise spotless surfaces. What he had told them had been a lie, but it was a kind lie. They could remember this comfort long after their friends and family stopped awkwardly mentioning the little girl, thinking that the parents shouldn’t be reminded of their loss. As if they wouldn’t think about her every day, forever. It was a lie that was meant to ease their pain, and David was glad he had done it.
A soft tapping on the office door came a moment later, and David expected to see the parents again, coming back for something. Instead a young woman stood on his doorstep, and she looked nothing like his regular clients. Glossy, jet-black tresses cascaded down her back in an artful tousle. Huge, sparkling dark eyes, fringed by an improbable number of lashes, looked out from absolutely flawless mocha skin that shone with a soft radiance of vitality and beauty. A queer little smile played with the corners of her incredibly full, glossy lips giving her a look that was half amused, half insolent. She came to a height with David at almost six feet, and her build could have been featured in any number of magazines. She wore khaki cargo pants, a closely fitted burgundy sweater, and shearling boots. David simultaneously loved and hated the look of her. He furrowed his brow in an expression of suspicion,
“Mr. Abraham? My name is Hope and I am here to ask you a few questions about Aiden.” David groaned internally, even as his skin began to feel prickly as a cold sheen of sweat sprang up in an instant. It had been years, but every now and then some up-start reporter, paparazzi freak, or psych student tracked him down, cornered him and asked him a bunch of horribly probing questions about his son’s disappearance. He hated this. Almost more than anything.
“I have nothing to say to you,” David said firmly, as he started to close the door. He could hear a ringing in his ears. He couldn’t go through this again. Not right now. Not after this morning’s session.
“What if I asked you if you would like him back?” Hope said almost nonchalantly, as if she had these sorts of conversations on a routine basis.
“What?” David hissed through the mostly closed door. “What did you say?” Hope smiled that insulting little smile.
“Do you want me to bring Aiden back? Maybe tomorrow? I could drop him off here at your office…”
“Young lady,” David said in his most condescending tone, regardless of the fact that she could not be more than 5 years his junior, “My son has been dead for seven years. This conversation is offensive and ridiculous. You are a liar, and you are not welcome here. Goodbye.” And he started to shut the door again. Hope stuck her foot in it.
“Oh, I am not a liar, Mr. Abraham. That is one thing I have never been. I know you don’t believe me, sir, so I have prepared a little demonstration for you. Watch the news tonight, at your usual time. After that, we can really talk.” And with that, Hope withdrew her foot, pivoted, and walked off quickly down the sidewalk.
A door was open in David’s mind, and he could not see what lay beyond it. He was dreaming: an agony that came to him in endless variations, where he was surrounded by the pieces of everything and everyone he loved and he could not find a way to make them stick together. But the door was new, and it didn’t belong. David started to walk towards it.
“…coming to you live from St. Lucy’s Hospital, where a six year old girl was found huddled on the floor in the hospital’s morgue.” David jerked awake. What time was it? Had he turned the TV on? The cheerful blond reporter continued in her best tone of shocked conspiracy, “We are getting a lot of conflicting information, but a moment ago we were able to speak with Stan and Kendra Pearson, who are claiming to be the little girl’s parents. They told us that their daughter, Jemma, was struck by a drunk driver on the sidewalk outside of their family’s suburban home yesterday morning. She was rushed to St. Lucy’s where she was declared dead on arrival.” The camera cut to a clip of a middle aged couple standing outside the hospital in the snow, ringed by a small group of reporters and cameras. David blinked a few times as recognition sank in. It was the couple he had met with that morning. “It’s a miracle!” The woman declared to the camera, with equal parts awe and ferocity, “We can’t wait to take Jemma home.” The blond reporter came back on as fresh snow started to soften the view. A few pedestrians walked back and forth on the sidewalk behind her. “We have been told that the little girl is being treated for shock but is otherwise healthy. The hospital has declined further comment at this time.” David felt a chill creep over him as he watched a tall woman with long black hair and shearling boots enter the shot. She looked right at the camera; no, right at David and the corner of her mouth turned up in a smirk. David knocked a stack of papers and a coffee cup off the table in his haste to hit the power button.
A door was open in David’s mind, and he could see a cold light beyond it. As he stood in the dark he felt a little hand reach up and grab his own. David held on tightly.
A series of sharp knocks brought David to his feet. Morning light streamed through the blinds with golden-red intensity. David wiped a sleeve across his mouth and tried to smooth his rumpled clothing. He wasn’t a morning person. Groggy, he walked to the door, trying to piece together how to say something coherent.
The woman who stood on his doorstep wore an expression that would curdle milk. She had short, well groomed hair, business make-up and jewelry, and a crisp green suit under an immaculate wool trench coat. David felt like a slob standing next to her. “David Abraham?” She began. It wasn’t really a question, “I’m Kendra Pearson’s sister. I’m here to get her money back.”
“Um… What?” David knew it wasn’t the best response, but his brain was still half asleep. He needed coffee and a shower.
“Kendra Pearson’s money.” Each word was enunciated with condescending perfection. “I want it back.” Right, unhappy family member of a customer. David tried not to actually rub his eyes as he willed himself into the standard speech. “If Ms. Pearson is unhappy with the services rendered then she will need to submit…”
“Services rendered?” She cut David short. There was venom in the words. “Services Rendered?? Tell me, Mr. Abraham, how could you have rendered your services of communicating with Jemma’s spirit if the child wasn’t DEAD?” She was shouting now. David flinched. Bystanders were starting to stare. “You are a fraud and a predator. You took advantage of my sister’s grief, and you conned her. How can you live with yourself, you incredible jackass?” David knew the question was meant to be rhetorical, but he had to answer. He just had to.
“I was trying to help her! I wanted to help her feel better…”
“Oh, that’s rich.” She bristled, “The conman with a heart of gold. Tell me, does it give you an ego trip to manipulate people? Or do you just love how easy it is to get money out of the grieving?”
“That isn’t why I do it!” David could feel his anger rising. How dare she. How dare she say that to him. “It isn’t about me and it isn’t about money! It was never about me!”
“Fuck you.” She turned and started briskly down the steps, “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” He watched her go, shivering. Bystanders quickly resumed walking, and none of them looked at David.
A door was open in David’s mind, and the world around him seemed fleeting and unimportant. Hope’s full, silky voice came to him through the cold. He turned to see her standing a few feet away, snowflakes in her long, black hair.
“Why don’t I come inside and we can get started?”
David stood in the open doorway, in the cold morning light.
“You brought that little girl back, didn’t you?” He felt like an idiot for asking, but he wasn’t sure if he was an idiot for thinking the answer should be “No” or that it would be “Yes.”
“Of course, Mr. Abraham. It’s what her mother wanted.” Hope smiled at him again. It didn’t warm him.
“You told me that you never lie.”
“I can’t,” Hope replied conversationally, “But most people spend too much time asking me questions.”
“I have two more.” David could feel his nose start to sting and his throat constrict. The winter scene began to blur as he choked out “Is he alone? Is he happy?” Hope’s smile vanished. She replied carefully, reluctantly.
“He was never alone. And he is very happy.”
“Then that is all I could ask for.” David replied. He firmly shut the door.