Chapter 53

“…and after that, it was mostly just wandering around, trying not to hurt anyone, until I got selected for the process,” Vince said.

He was resting in a chair tilted at a half-incline, eyes skimming the top shelf of Dr. Moran’s bookcase. She didn’t keep the iconic piece of furniture known as a “therapist’s couch” for the same reason she didn’t open each session asking about the patient’s mother: aside from serving little purpose, it actively put some patients on the defensive. Instead, she had a few different pieces of furniture, positioned at different angles in the room, with the capacity to recline. She’d found that some people wanted to watch her as they spoke, while others avoided eye-contact like it would give them the fits. There was no wrong way to talk, so she endeavored to provide an environment where anyone could find a position that was comfortable.

Vince’s own habit was to take a chair across from her, but slightly angled away, so that he could shift from looking at her to looking at the room. His gaze altered with the subject matter. Happy stories about his father or his friends usually came with eye-contact, but the sadder recollections caused his gaze to stray. Today they’d finished going over the last of his years with his father, however there was still a bit of time left.

“That’s quite a gap of wandering,” Dr. Moran prompted. “In the five years between losing your father and being found for the program, nothing of note occurred?”

Vince adjusted his position in the chair, eyes locked on a volume with a title he couldn’t have pronounced with an hour of practice. “I mean, things happened, sure. It was five years. Just, nothing to do with my dad. Isn’t that what we’re here to talk about?”

“No, Vince, we’re here to talk about you,” Dr. Moran reminded him. “Clearly your father was a large part of shaping who you are, but I refuse to believe he was the only influence. Thirteen to eighteen are still formative years; surely you must have met some people who left a mark.”

“On occasion, I guess,” Vince admitted. “There was a small town in Maine where a bunch of locals chased me away as soon as they saw my hair. In Washington, a street gang tried to recruit me until I accidently electrocuted half of them. More than once people offered me money to do experiments on me.”

Dr. Moran pointedly resisted asking if he’d accepted, the tone in his voice made it clear this wasn’t a memory he wanted to dwell on. “That sounds like quite a cruel world to live in.”

“Sometimes. Other people were nice, though. In Texas I was sleeping in someone’s deerstand and I heard hunters walk underneath. I was sure I’d be caught; thankfully none of them seemed to notice. I fell back asleep, thinking I’d gone undetected, but in the morning there was a backpack full of food and some old clothes at the base of the stand. There was a diner in Florida where they let me work as a busboy, even when some of the customers complained about my accidental flare-ups.”

“An honest job,” Dr. Moran replied. “Why did you leave it?”

“The same reason I left everywhere, eventually,” Vince said. “I was afraid of hurting people. The longer I was with them, the more I cared about them, the stronger my impulse to run away was. Most Powereds are a threat to themselves, but I put everyone near me at risk.”

Dr. Moran’s pen scratched across the yellow pad as she made a few notes to herself. How Vince had come through the life he’d lived with such kindness and optimism was a testament to his own character and to that of the man who had raised him. She’d treated people with less than a quarter of his trials and hardships who already hated the world, yet he was engaged in a demanding program that centered around helping others. Still, for all of Vince’s goodness, he was human, and his tendency to hide secrets had made itself clear over the course of their sessions.

“Vince, when we started these sessions I told you I believed in honesty from both parties,” she began, noticing that his eyes turned back to her. “That said, I want you to know that I’m aware you’re hiding something from me.”

His bright blue eyes widened just a touch, but the doctor didn’t pause her speech.

“I’m not accusing you, or trying to force you to talk about it. I just feel it’s healthy if you know I’m aware. There’s an event somewhere in the gap between losing your father and coming to Lander. You dance around it, coming close to saying something related to that event, then stopping yourself, like when we talked about your remarkable lack of scars. I know at least one thing is there, and that’s okay. This is a process, so you don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to reach a level of comfort with me before we discuss things. In the future, however, instead of purposely trying to obfuscate bits of your past or your emotions, just say ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that.’ Okay?”

“Okay,” Vince said, also nodding his agreement. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” his words petered out as he searched for the right term.

“It’s perfectly fine,” Dr. Moran assured him. “I only brought it up because I know you well enough to be aware the act of lying, even by omission, was bothering you. This is a safe place, and you define the boundaries. You never need to feel bad because we come to a junction you aren’t ready to cross yet.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Vince said, his voice slightly thicker than it had been before.

“Of course. And, Vince, when you’re ready to talk, I’ll always be ready to listen.” She paused to make a show of checking the clock, even though Dr. Moran kept acute track of the minutes in her sessions. “That said, we covered a lot of ground today, so if you’d like to head out a minute early I think that will be fine. However, if you want to keep going I have no other appointments this afternoon.”

“I’ll take a break for now,” Vince said, rising from the chair. “But I’ll give some thought to what I want to discuss next session.”

“That should be very productive,” Dr. Moran said, giving him her standard professional smile.